2020 | Business

Late-night alcohol sales safe from suspension for now, official says

Executive order requires shutdown if certain criteria reached

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Montgomery County officials have not suspended a late night-alcohol sales program even though the county’s COVID-19 data are at a level triggering a shutdown.

The Late-Night Alcohol Sales Program, which began on Oct. 1, lets certain restaurants and bars serve alcohol between 10 p.m. and midnight. Businesses have to apply for a permit to serve alcohol for those two hours, with certain conditions.

Around 220 county businesses hold a permit for the program.

But under the county’s executive order, the program has to end if the county’s three-day average of confirmed COVID-19 cases exceeds 100.

On Tuesday, the county had a three-day average of 90 new confirmed cases. But for several days in the past week, the average has exceeded 100.

During a County Council meeting on Tuesday, Dr. Earl Stoddard, executive director of the county’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, said officials considered changing the condition to a seven-day case rate instead of a three-day case rate.

“Frankly, that would have been met, as well,” he said.

He added that officials have no reason to believe that the program is responsible for the rising levels.

“[We] are simply looking at this week’s data to try and really figure out whether we’re in a climb upwards or whether last week represents another blip in a series of blips,” Stoddard said. “We’ll take action accordingly.”

The county isn’t ready to roll the program back yet, he said, but if the increases become a trend, the program will be suspended.

Council Member Hans Riemer, the only council member to vote against implementing the program, said at Tuesday’s briefing that the county is obligated to suspend it.

“To me, we are in violation of our ordinance,” he said. “I didn’t think there would be kind of an option here. It says what it says. This is not a position I enjoy taking. However, the language of the ordinance is pretty clear.”

The other conditions in the ordinance that would cause suspension of the program include:
● The three-day positivity average in the county exceeds 3.25%
● An increased association of indoor and outdoor dining with COVID-19 positive contacts of greater than 3% combined
● More than 10% of inspected participants result in findings that warrant citation, closure or revocation of a permit

The county’s three-day positivity average was 2.5%, as of Tuesday morning. Stoddard said Tuesday that the other benchmarks were not reached.

The county previously rolled back alcohol service on Aug. 5, forcing it to stop at 10 p.m.

Officials said they put the restriction in place because at the time, compliance with COVID-19 regulations was more of a problem during the late-night hours. Public pressure and improved conditions moved the county to reinstate those hours for service.

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.