Mulford agreed to their request, granting a temporary restraining order that allows them to resume on-site dining with restrictions in place.
The judge ordered that restaurants can continue to serve patrons indoors until Dec. 28, when he will hear a motion on a preliminary injunction. The ruling is one of the first wins in the region for business owners arguing that pandemic-related restrictions are too heavy-handed.
Stacie MacDonald, a former Republican candidate for the House of Delegates who is helping to finance the lawsuit, said in a statement she was “absolutely appalled” at the county’s steps because of the fragile state of the economy.
“Actions such as the closure of so many businesses could prove to be the final nail in the coffin for our struggling restaurants and their workers,” she said.
The suit was brought by Titan Hospitality Group, Heroes Pub, Capo and Severna Park Rib Co.
Pittman on Wednesday said he was disappointed in the judge’s ruling and looks forward to a full hearing on the merits of the case. He has said he took the action of limiting service at restaurants to avoid overwhelming the hospital system.
“We believe the science from public health experts is clear and it shows that taking actions to limit situations where people gather without masks will prevent the spread of this virus and ultimately save lives,” Pittman said in a statement.
Anne Arundel is averaging more than 200 new coronavirus cases daily this month. The county had 133 residents in hospitals Wednesday for coronavirus-related illnesses.
Hours before the hearing, Pittman rolled back part of his executive order, agreeing to allow outdoor dining but requiring that seating not be fully enclosed. He also announced the creation of a $2 million fund to help restaurant workers.
“At the end of the pandemic, we’re going to look back on this time and ask ourselves whether there was more we could have done to save lives,” Pittman said last week when announcing tougher restrictions. “And I don’t want to be in a position wishing that we had done more.”
Mulford’s ruling came as the greater Washington region Wednesday reported 6,599 new coronavirus cases and 102 new deaths. The seven-day average of new fatalities in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. reached 78 on Wednesday, a number not seen since May.
Anne Monroe, an epidemiologist at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said part of the increase in cases regionally is the result of social gatherings in which people are indoors, not wearing masks and not social distancing.
Without dramatic restrictions on restaurant dining and gatherings, she said, she doesn’t expect to see the “curve flattening in the short term.”
“Social gatherings are what’s driving the spread,” Monroe said. “And it’s getting harder and harder to do contact tracing.”
Montgomery County leaders on Wednesday pleaded with residents not to host large gatherings for the upcoming holidays. The state’s most populous jurisdiction is recording a seven-day average of more than 470 new cases.
“We really don’t want people to do that,” said County Executive Marc Elrich (D).
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) on Wednesday celebrated the hopefulness that accompanied the coronavirus vaccine being administered across the region but urged residents to remain vigilant in the months to come.
Northam, speaking during his presentation of a state budget to the General Assembly’s finance committees, closed his remarks with a swipe at those in the state who have resisted his virus-related restrictions. Rural Campbell County, near Lynchburg, has passed a resolution rejecting Northam’s executive orders to combat the pandemic, though he did not mention localities by name.
“For months now, Virginians in all corners of this state have been doing the right thing. Of course, there are some folks whose antics grab the headlines,” Northam said, then paused and glared from his lectern before praising “every Virginian who pulls that mask out of their pocket and puts it on before they go into the store.”
The governor added: “Virginians care about each other. That has been a bright light in a dark year, and I am grateful every day for the people of this great commonwealth.”
In the District, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) on Wednesday thanked Northam and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) for each providing the city with about 8,000 doses of the coronavirus vaccine for state residents employed as health-care workers in the city. City officials have long fretted about vaccine allotments because 75 percent of D.C.’s 85,000 health-care workers commute from Maryland and Virginia.
MedStar Georgetown University Hospital began vaccinating its health-care workers Wednesday as U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar looked on. MedStar Washington Hospital Center, Children’s National, United Medical Center and Virginia Hospital Center in Arlington also vaccinated their workers Wednesday.
As the virus’s economic toll continues, D.C. residents who have had difficulty navigating the city’s pandemic-related unemployment programs had a chance Wednesday to hear directly from Department of Employment Services Director Unique Morris-Hughes, who testified before the D.C. Council.
Morris-Hughes’s guidance came on the heels of a roundtable last week in which several D.C. unemployment recipients outlined troubles with receiving benefits through the city’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program. The program covers city workers who are not eligible for traditional unemployment or Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which extends regular unemployment benefits. Both programs are funded through the Cares Act and are set to expire on Dec. 26.
Asked about what claimants can do when benefits come to an end, Morris-Hughes urged them to “call Congress and tell them to act right now.”
“This is very difficult to respond to because there isn’t much control that we have over the sunsetting of these benefits,” she said. “I do think letting Congress know the importance of these programs is helpful.”
Morris-Hughes said PUA recipients who are eligible for the newly announced $1,200 stimulus would begin receiving that payment Wednesday. In contrast with the complex steps required for some of the city’s other unemployment programs, Morris-Hughes promised that the roughly 20,000 residents who are eligible for the one-time payment should receive it before the end of the month.
“We tried to make this as seamless and painless as possible,” she said. “No additional application is needed.”
Dana Hedgpeth, Rebecca Tan, Julie Zauzmer and Lola Fadulu contributed to this report.