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Gaithersburg Restaurant That Refused to Put Workers in Masks Is All Out of Warnings

Montgomery County has already closed two hookah bars and a Silver Spring lounge for flouting reopening rules

The Grille at Flower Hill has drawn criticism on social media for a post saying it would refuse to put employees in masks.
The Grille at Flower Hill has drawn criticism on social media for a post saying it would refuse to put employees in masks.
The Grille at Flower Hill [official]

The Montgomery County health department says it will shut down a Gaithersburg barbecue restaurant this week if the smokehouse continues to flout Maryland’s legal mandate for food service workers to wear face masks while the state works to contain COVID-19 cases.

According to a statement the county released yesterday, a health inspector visited the Grille at Flower Hill on Thursday, July 2, in response to complaints from customers that employees were not wearing face masks as required in the state’s reopening rules for restaurants. After receiving a warning, the owner of the restaurant published a (now-deleted) Facebook post that flatly stated, “Let me be very clear…my staff will not wear face masks while working here at the Grille. If that bothers you then please dine elsewhere and please try to find something more important to occupy your time such as volunteer at a nursing home or soup kitchen.”

The post incited a wave of criticism on social media and local news coverage from the Washington Post and NBC’s local affiliate. The owner, whom NBC did not identity, told the news station he feels masks are bad for people’s health, that they’re uncomfortable to wear, and that while he told his staff they could wear masks, all of them decided against it.

Montgomery County’s statement says it issued a verbal warning but received more complaints about the restaurant over the weekend. It will send an inspector out to enforce compliance with mask mandates this upcoming Thursday. (The Grille at Flower Hill typically operates from Thursday through Sunday.) Knowingly violating the order is punishable by up to a year in prison, $5,000 in fines, or both.

“If we find that a business has been educated and continues to willfully ignore the requirements to safely reopen, we will use our legal authority to prohibit their operations until they comply,” County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles says in the statement.

Montgomery County says it has already sent inspectors out to 1,900 businesses to ensure owners understand reopening requirements. It has closed two hookah bars, the Vibes Hookah Lounge in Rockville and the Cabana Hookah Lounge in Silver Spring, because smoking hookah isn’t allowed under Maryland’s Phase 2 reopening plan. Officials also closed the Palisades Lounge in Silver Spring for failing to enforce social distancing requirements.

Montgomery County has reported the highest COVID-19 death total in the state (714), and the second-most cases (15,332).