Montgomery County’s announcement that it would be lifting most COVID-19 restrictions was welcomed by many residents and members of the business community on Saturday.
The restrictions will be lifted at 6 a.m. on May 28, which is two weeks after the county reached its goal of administering all the required doses of the vaccine to at least 50% of the population – a benchmark that was reached on Friday, according to County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles.
Robert Wiedmaier, a D.C.-area restaurateur who owns multiple restaurants in Montgomery County, including Bethesda’s Mussel Bar and Wildwood Kitchen, told Bethesda Beat on Saturday that the reopening is overdue.
“Thank God. It’s taken long enough…” he said.
“[It] gives people the feeling that ‘hey we’re gettin’ through this,” he said. “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel. We can go out to dinner and not feel so scared.”
Wiedmaier said some people remain reluctant to eat inside and are waiting until the pandemic is completely over before doing so. Wildwood has been hit particularly hard because it’s such a small restaurant, he said.
“It only has 38 seats, so at 50% or 25% [business is] nothing. And it’s an older clientele. So they’re much more apprehensive,” he said.
Wiedmaier said it will likely be a few more months until business returns to pre-pandemic levels.
“We’re not out of the woods yet. I don’t think we’re gonna get back to where restaurants are back in the normal swing of things until after the summertime,” he said.
Marco Zavala, the manager at Casa Oaxaca in Bethesda, said on Saturday that he hopes the reopening helps restaurants survive that were struggling during the pandemic.
“It’s good news for everybody, because we were limited to the capacity we could have in the restaurant…. We’re looking forward to just being able to see more people,” he said.
Connie Cissel, the owner of The Blue House gift store in Bethesda, said on Saturday that she is excited about lifting of restrictions.
“Good….It’s just another step of getting back to normal,” she said.
In Bethesda’s Woodmont Triangle neighborhood and North Bethesda’s Pike & Rose development on Saturday, people could be seen both masked and unmasked as they took advantage of the warm weather.
Bethesda resident Allen Minton said even after May 28, he would prefer to only eat outside because some still refuse to get vaccinated.
Minton said he has gone shopping during the pandemic, but only if people are sticking to the mask requirement.
“As long as the store has a policy of only masked people inside, that’s not a problem,” he said.
Michael McKenna, a Bethesda resident, was enjoying a beer with a friend in Bethesda’s Streetery on Norfolk Avenue Saturday afternoon. He said he thinks the lifting of restrictions on businesses is “the right decision.”
McKenna, a commercial insurance broker, said he has seen a number of businesses suffer due to the restrictions during the pandemic, noting the closure of Bethesda mainstay Harp & Fiddle last year.
“Everyone’s ready to get back to normal. A lot of small businesses that I represent have gone out of business, so it’s sad to see. A lot of these businesses in Bethesda couldn’t go another six months or longer of being shut down,” he said.
Not everyone agreed with the reopening decision.
Alessia Ramirez, who was eating outside with a group of friends at Pinstripes Pike & Rose on Saturday, said the fact that there’s no way to know with certainty if someone’s been vaccinated makes her nervous about reopening to full capacity.
“Are you really gonna go to a restaurant, and are people gonna be like ‘let me see your vaccine card so I can see you’ve actually been vaccinated?’ It’s just a really big risk, and I don’t think we’re ready for that risk yet. I think that we need to wait,” she said.
Ramirez, a Gaithersburg resident, said she has dined both inside and outside during the pandemic, but she is more comfortable eating outside.
“You have better circulation outside than you have inside. And if we’re going back to 100% capacity, I think we’re all [in trouble],” she said.
Gaithersburg resident Cattia Alvarez, who was eating with Ramirez, said that 50% of the population being fully vaccinated will be less effective if people aren’t wearing masks.
“We’re still at a high risk, because we’re still talking about 50% of the population [that’s not fully vaccinated],” she said.
Dan Schere can be reached at [email protected]