Large event venues – for weddings, conferences, theater, live music and other occasions – are happy to see Montgomery County’s COVID-19 restrictions lifted. Now they are waiting to see how comfortable the public is to attend larger gatherings.
Montgomery County entered the third and final phase of its reopening phase on Friday at 6 a.m., two weeks after 50% of the population received a final dose of a coronavirus vaccine, the threshold set by the count. Businesses across the county can resume normal operations, but wearing a mask will still be necessary on public transport, in county buildings, in schools and in health care facilities.
In addition, companies can decide whether or not to require masks indoors.
Allie Williams, CEO of the Greater Bethesda Chamber of Commerce, said many businesses in the hospitality industry, including those that host large events, are excited to reopen at full capacity.
Several started booking events as early as June, he said.
Businesses are encouraged to take safety precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, Williams said. But he thinks most can handle this, and the public will likely determine the level of attendance at certain venues in the weeks to come.
“I’m sure there’s a barrier there, because it’s not about trusting the seller or the establishment,” Williams said. “That’s right, they’re going to invite 200 people and only 60 people come, and situations like that.”
Ronnie Kingsley, owner of Milton Ridge – a wedding venue in Clarksburg – said he had seen an increase in inquiries about space and events since March, but some are still worried about booking weddings or events .
Milton Ridge has hosted small events of 10 to 25 people, but that doesn’t compare to events with around 125 people, he said.
“People are nervous, and I really think that’s holding some back. … Couples make ‘wait and see what happens,’ ”Kingsley said.
Nearby, Lauren Huyser, owner of Comus Farm Events in Dickerson, is getting ready to open for big events. She has just started the business, but said there has been great interest in recent weeks.
“People called us last week asking for events for over 200 people. … I don’t think there is that much hesitation now, and people are trying to get back to normal, ”Huyser said.
Companies, as private entities, can set their own restrictions or rules during these events.
Joshua Ford, director of marketing and communications at the Olney Theater Center, said outdoor shows are scheduled for July, with an interim goal of hosting shows indoors by the end of September.
Olney Threatre is fortunate to have 14 acres and an outdoor stage, Ford said. He waits to see the success of the outdoor programs before determining the dates for shows in the fall and beyond.
“I think there are a lot of people who are very, very anxious to come back and there would be a full house… and there are others who take a more cautious approach,” said Ford.
It’s a good sign for the entire theater industry that Broadway announced its reopening in New York in September, he said.
“Right now people know things are changing fast, to say the least,” said Ford. “And that, the current situation is not necessarily what it will be in a few weeks … but I think we have turned the corner to make people more optimistic.”
Some venues are expected to host events this weekend, including Strathmore in North Bethesda. An outdoor summer series will start there on Sunday with a performance by acclaimed jazz artist Wynton Marsalis on Sunday on the Strathmore Patio stage.
Regardless of the business reaction, it will be important for residents and event goers to treat each other with respect, based on their level of comfort, the owners said.
Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton echoed the idea.
Some people might want to wear masks more often, Newton said. Others might not be able to get vaccinated for various health reasons, so they may need to be careful, especially around large crowds, she added.
“While we are all excited to get to normal, people should do it at their own level of comfort. … I want to run, but I’m going to walk to make sure the city is doing everything in its power to keep people safe, ”Newton said.
The county entered phase two on May 17, when 60% of the county’s population received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. The capacity for indoor events has been increased to 250 people, outdoor gathering limits have been lifted, and religious establishments and most businesses have increased capacity from 50% to 75%, among other changes.
County officials entered the first phase on April 27, when 50% of the population had received at least a single dose of a vaccine.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]