We’re all looking for some normalcy. For going on 12 months now, we have struggled to find ways to get our lives back to the way they were prior to the pandemic.
For some, that return to normal could be as simple as going back to work in an office or venturing out of their household bubbles to see a loved one in person. But for now, those folks follow the rules by wearing masks and keeping a safe social distance. They might venture out to the grocery store, maybe pick up carryout at a local restaurant or make some other quick stop. They’re cautious and willing to wait for a majority of society to get vaccines before expanding their time with others.
Then there are others who want normalcy a lot faster. They have been the ones pushing for in-person schools to open sooner, want restaurant capacity and hours to increase and high school sports to return. And in the overwhelming number of cases, they also support continuing with the CDC requirements of wearing masks, social distancing and all the other preventative steps.
Early in this pandemic, our state and local officials seemed to be in step with each other as we navigated what was safe and what wasn’t. But as the pandemic has dragged on — and with no clear end thanks to the vaccine shortage — the gap is growing between those who want to play it safe and those who believe we can loosen restrictions.
These differences took center stage when The Derby Restaurant and Bar’s co-owner Dan Caiola decided he intended to follow Gov. Larry Hogan’s rules of when a restaurant should close over local rules put in place by County Executive Jan Gardner. Hogan announced Jan. 28 that restaurants could stay open past the previous 10 p.m. curfew, but Gardner disagreed, which is her prerogative.
But Caiola gained support from New Market Mayor Winslow Burhans, who signed an executive order Monday night, which is his prerogative — to follow the governor’s rule. Soon after, Brunswick Mayor Nathan Brown signed an order for his town to let restaurants follow Hogan’s lead.
County rules changed again Thursday night when Gardner extended restaurant hours to midnight beginning Friday, though alcohol sales have to stop at 10 p.m. The governor’s rules don’t put time restrictions on alcohol sales. The disparity might seem subtle on paper but not so much in reality.
What these differences do is contribute to an unlevel playing field for restaurants and bars and likely has added even more inconsistencies to an already confusing situation.
We’ll admit, there is no easy answer here. On the one hand, we’ve maintained that waiting for a vaccine is paramount before returning to a normal life. It’s a similar argument we’ve made about the need for teachers to get vaccines before returning to in-person classes.
At the same time, our news pages have been filled with countless articles about the struggles small business owners are facing. So we can appreciate the desire of those who just want that little bit of normalcy — even if it’s something as simple as staying open past 10 p.m.
We keep coming back to what Hogan said last spring when he told us to trust the science when it came to placing restrictions and then removing them. Hogan told us there would be certain positivity rates and other metrics that would help us make these calls, ostensibly taking politics out of the equation.
That seemed to work for a while, but now, as each jurisdiction gets to make up its own mind, there’s more room for debate and confusion. While we won’t call these decisions arbitrary — health officials are involved in most decisions — we do see an unfair competitive balance between restaurants.
Ultimately, we know we’re always going to err on the side of safety. With new, more highly contagious variants of the virus spreading, a complete return to normalcy is a long way away. For most of us, that likely means staying home, even for this Sunday’s Super Bowl, a traditionally big bar and restaurant night.
But this is more than just about where to watch a game or grab a late meal. It comes down to fairness and a lack of clarity for both restaurants and the public.