Pittman: Decision to open ACC indoor dining "Terrible"; Local chamber: "pushback understandable"
County Executive Pittman said in a phone interview with the Arundel Journal Friday afternoon, that he understood restaurants were in a terrible position from the pandemic. He indicated he believed he was facing decisions that could save lives but hurt business, or save businesses, but ultimately cause more residents to die from COVID-19. That was why he decided on the order. "This is a place where we don't want to be," he said. "I would rather have someone out of work, and work on ways to help them with a safety net, then they die. I don't want to look back and know I could have saved lives." Asked if he had anticipated before entering office if he would someday have to make such weighty decisions, he said he knew life-or-death decisions might be part of his job. "I knew I would be dealing with life and death," he said, citing his position as a leader in a county with large police and fire departments where some decisions might end up at the top. "It's what I signed up for. If I can make decisions to save lives, I'd like too." Executive order 39 banned indoor dining until January 13, and caps visitation to retail and most other establishments to 25 percent of maximum capacity. An injunction Thursday by Anne Arundel's Circuit Court Judge William Mulford stopped the prohibition on indoor dining, until at least December 28, when there will be another hearing. "It's terrible," Pittman said "I don't agree with the decision by the judge." Media reports cite the judge as upholding his motion by stating the county executive had relied on selective interpretation of the data, and did not clearly explain the county's hospital capacity regarding COVID-19. Pittman was plain enough when speaking with the Journal. He indicated that projections on COVID-19 trends in Anne Arundel County caused him to take action. He said he couldn't ignore the numbers, which he said, if accurate, showed there would soon be more coronavirus patients in Anne Arundel County than beds to treat them. "I couldn't ignore that as county executive," Pittman said. "It (AAC Executive Order #39) was the hardest thing I've had to do on the job. There are no good options. We understand restaurants are in a tough position. I understand people are angry." Beth Nowell, CEO of the Northern Anne Arundel County County Chamber of Commerce, responded in an email Thursday, that small businesses here are struggling due to the restrictive measures from the county’s Executive Order #39. Nowell believes the federal government needs to pass another CARES round of funding. Local residents also need to support local businesses that find themselves with restrictions that are not applied to large retail establishments, she wrote. “All small businesses are feeling the pinch this year whether it be restaurants, personal services such as hair salons, or retail establishments,” she wrote. “Small business retail is finding it hard to compete with the pandemic induced online holiday sales just by the shear number of shoppers.” She believes things are worse at this point because she is now seeing COVID fatigue taking place throughout the business community. “They (business owners) are of two minds,” Nowell explained “They understand the danger the pandemic poses to physical lives, while they see the danger the restrictions pose to their financial lives.” “However, the restrictions that were placed on businesses through Executive Order #39 were so restrictive that the future of restaurants and the allied industries were in question. The push-back was understandable.” She said one of the chambers members, a large rental hall, recently failed. “(They) closed because they could not hold events to pay the rent and the staff,” Nowell stated. Reopen Anne Arundel County is a Facebook group that started back in May of 2020, It now has over 2,500 members. The group’s social media page states it supports peaceful and respectful advocacy for discussing reopening the county, Yet there are an abundance of angry comments on the discussion page, particularly at Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan. Pittman emphasized Friday, that one of the jobs of government was to protect the public. He said it was not alright for some county residents, who may be at lower risk for COVID-19, to accept the risk by going out, but then put their high-risk neighbors in potentially life-threatening jeopardy. "People can gamble, but when they force others to play, we have to say no," he said. "Don't push it off on people who have pre-existing conditions. Its not fair. We're connected." He said about one person in Anne Arundel County was dying every day from COVID-19. He used an analogy of comparing the virus to a human killer who was on the loose in the county killing one person each day. "If a person was a person shot each day, we'd shut this place down to find that person who did it," he said. The county executive has requested the Anne Arundel County Council include $2 million of supplemental funding to create the Restaurant Workers Humanitarian Relief Fund. The program would expand the debit card distribution program that is managed by Anne Arundel County Workforce Development. The County has also created several other programs, including energy and housing initiatives to try to assist residents as they make their way through the pandemic. But he said some of the responsibility of government to help people through the emergency fell at the federal level. He was hoping that Congress would make progress on a new bill that might help employed residents and business owners, too, but was also grateful that the county had been able to help as many residents as it has. Nowell indicated her chamber was facing a major challenge creating revenue. It is usually made from events that are not possible this year. Bu she is determined that the chamber find its way through the very challenging business environment and continue to serve members. She wrote that her understanding of how a healthy business community goes hand-in-hand with a healthy residential community, is one of the inspirations that gets her up in the morning. “We stay on course with our mission to promote a favorable business climate for our membership by providing legislative and business advocacy, professional educational programs, and networking opportunities designed to help.” she wrote. While she knows things are tough, she wanted to take time to also recognize the gauntlet so many area companies have successfully endured since the pandemic started. “All sales are down however, I think our members should pat themselves on their back for their fortitude and resilience the past 10 months has demanded of them. We are truly in this storm together although our boats may appear different.”