It’s not unusual for law enforcement officials to be on high-alert for alcohol-related issues the night before Thanksgiving, but this year, Frederick Police Department will also be on the lookout for COVID-19 violations.
“The night before Thanksgiving typically draws hundreds of visitors to the downtown area, primarily to patronize downtown establishments,” police said in a statement. “The Frederick Police Department increases staffing for this night in preparation for alcohol-related issues such as assaults, disorderly conduct, and noise complaints.”
With COVID-19 restrictions in place, such as Governor Larry Hogan’s order to close restaurants and bars by 10 p.m., police have another item on their to-do list for Thanksgiving eve.
To help prevent the spread of disease, Frederick Police Department, the Frederick County Liquor Board, the Office of the State Fire Marshal and the Frederick County Health Department will be conducting business compliance checks on Wednesday, Nov. 25. Indoor dining and large gatherings are driving forces for spreading COVID-19, the Maryland Department of Health found. The penalties for violations of the governor’s executive orders include one-year imprisonment and/or a $5,000 fine, police said.
County mask mandate
Frederick County residents face further restrictions, imposed by the county board of health. The county’s mask mandate requires residents to wear masks in all indoor public spaces as well as outdoor public spaces when physical distancing can’t be maintained with non-family members and limits all gatherings in residences and businesses to no more than 25 people.
The county’s regulation limits indoor capacity for bars, breweries, distilleries, event venues and several other businesses at 25 people or 25 percent, whichever is less. But that only applies to planned or organized gatherings, not daily operations.
Hogan ordered all restaurants and bars to operate at no more than 50 percent capacity. They had been operating at 75 percent for more than a month in Frederick County.
Violators of Regulation 01-2020, which went into effect Nov. 13, are subject to civil penalties. First-time offenders can be fined $250 dollars. Second-time offenders can receive a $250 penalty, and any subsequent offense can carry a $500 fine.
However, the Frederick Police Department is not a county entity and does not enforce county code, Acting Capt. Kirk Henneberry said, though they may refer a complaint to the county health department.
“Our fundamental duty is to keep the peace,” he said Thursday. “We’ve been operating with the same direction we’ve always given ever since COVID-19 started.”
COVID-19 complaints have decreased over the past few months. Henneberry knew of four complaints of executive order violations as of Nov. 19. Complaints peaked at 84 in April.
When it comes to enforcing the the local mask regulations, County Health Officer Barbara Brookmyer has broad authority. She can appoint various designees to issue citations, which County Executive Jan Gardner said would be mostly county health department employees.
Frederick police do, however, enforce the governor’s executive orders. Henneberry said an officer will first try to get voluntary compliance from someone in violation, which has worked in most situations. If they’re unsuccessful, that may lead to charging the person with failing to obey a reasonable/lawful order or trespassing. The latter may occur if a customer won’t comply with a business’s mask policy, for instance.
Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins has found, from his daily interactions with the public, that most people are in compliance.
“As we have done from the very start, we will continue to educate our communities on the governor’s order in place at the time and ensure they understand how to stay in compliance,” Jenkins said in a statement Thursday, when asked how his office will handle the local mask order. “This has worked so far for our Frederick County citizens and I have complete confidence that it will continue to go that way.”
Greg Swatek contributed to this story.