After roughly five hours, the Frederick County Board of Health approved additional regulations on wedding venues and fitness centers, along with limiting gathering sizes. It was a split vote.
Before then, the Board of Health — consisting of County Executive Jan Gardner (D), County Health Officer Barbara Brookmyer and the County Council — heard from more than three dozen community members Tuesday night, all opposed to the new measures.
Some called them “draconian.” Others said it was up to individual businesses to enforce mask wearing, sanitation and social distancing requirements. Most noted coronavirus-related restrictions were being applied to small businesses, but big-box stores were flourishing.
Those calls weren’t enough, however, to change the board’s mind. Instead, they passed the regulations, which limit indoor and outdoor social gatherings to 25 people or less, and wedding venues to 50 percent capacity, among a slew of other restrictions.
Those included distancing between tables and requiring staff to wear face coverings, but Councilman Steve McKay (R) was able to introduce an amendment that allowed some dancing at wedding venues, which was originally restricted. That passed in a 5-3 vote, with Gardner, Council President M.C. Keegan-Ayer (D) and Councilman Jerry Donald (D) voting no.
Earlier this month, in its first meeting in years, the health board met late into the night and voted to impose new restrictions amid the pandemic. Those included a mandate that residents wear masks in all indoor public spaces as well as outdoor public spaces when physical distancing can’t be maintained with non-family members in Frederick County and a limit on all gatherings in residences and businesses — restaurants not included — to no more than 25 people.
Restaurant capacity remains at 50 percent, as those activities are not considered social gatherings, said Vivian Laxton, Gardner’s communications director.
On Tuesday, McKay was successful in getting Brookmyer to delete language that would have allowed her to enact future control measures, prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people or prohibiting retail occupancy greater than 50 percent capacity.
He failed, however, in striking the 25 percent capacity for fitness centers. That amendment failed with McKay, Council Vice President Michael Blue (R) and Councilman Phil Dacey (R) voting yes.
Some, in their support vote on the regulations, pointed to inaction in Congress passing a second major coronavirus relief bill.
“The money is in there in the HEROES Act, we’ve had a complete abandonment of leadership in the federal government,” Donald said. “It’s like they’re salting the earth and walking out of their house while it’s on fire.”
Both Gardner and Keegan-Ayer said they’ve heard from health care workers who have to deal with the physical costs of the pandemic every day.
Gardner reminded people that the coronavirus is not the flu, noting that while more than 50 people died from the flu in 2019-20, more than 4,300 people have died from the coronavirus, in Maryland.
“I appreciate that if your business is at 50 percent, you’re probably losing money ... the perspective we didn’t hear tonight was from people on the frontline of the pandemic,” Gardner said in a nod to health care workers.
The Republican members of the County Council disagreed in their vote. Dacey said the amount of opposition he heard Tuesday night was “unprecedented” in his time in public office.
“I don’t think there’s anybody out there that thinks we should operate normally ... we’re losing the faith of hundreds of businesses who are here,” Dacey said.
Gardner, Donald, Keegan-Ayer, Hagen and Councilwoman Jessica Fitzwater (D) voted to support the amended regulations. Blue, Dacey and McKay voted against.