Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Friday said Baltimore City is not ready to begin phase two of the state’s coronavirus recovery plan, which includes the reopening of indoor dining at half capacity.
Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday announced that starting at 5 p.m. Friday the state would lift more coronavirus-related restrictions, allowing restaurants to seat guests indoors with health restrictions. Maryland first entered the second phase of the state’s three-phase recovery plan on June 5.
During Wednesday’s announcement, Hogan left it up to local leaders to determine whether to move forward with lifting these new restrictions.
However, he also criticized Young for Baltimore City’s decision to take a slower approach to reopening.
“I think it’s absolutely absurd that there are thousands of people gathering in the streets and yet a small business in Baltimore can’t open their doors,” Hogan said. “And I think Jack Young should let those small retail shops open–they should have been open a long time ago.”
When Young was asked during his Friday press conference about his and Hogan’s different views on whether Baltimore City should reopen more businesses and activities, the mayor reiterated that his decision is based on data and recommendations from health professionals.
“I don’t know what the governor is looking at,” Young said. “I look at what my health professionals are telling me and the data. I don’t know what he’s looking at.”
Young said the Baltimore Police Department’s social club task force will inspect restaurants and businesses tonight and over the weekend to verify that they are complying with local orders.
“If we find that you have opened for indoor dining, you will be shut down,” Young said. “I will not put the residents of this city at unnecessary risk, nor will I open up restaurants for indoor dining if I don’t feel it is safe for me or my family to be in one.”
Young said that next week he and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa will review the city’s coronavirus data to determine any impact that Memorial Day weekend gatherings and the past two weeks of protests against police brutality and racial injustice may have had on Baltimore City’s COVID-19 metrics. They will then announce whether the city is ready to move to phase two.
Dzirasa said she understands and supports protesters, but said the city needs to take into account a potential spike in cases from those protests, as well as other large gatherings, such as Memorial Day cookouts and people visiting Ocean City.
“As a public health official, I applaud the activism and expression of our First Amendment rights as thousands participated in peaceful marches and protests across Baltimore City,” she said. “The dismantling of systemic racism can and should be viewed as a public health crisis that only through activism can we as a country overcome. We also must acknowledge that this period of activism and social movement is occurring in the midst of a pandemic.”
In order to progress to phase two, Baltimore City is looking for the number of new coronavirus cases and deaths to decrease for 12 days, the rate of positive tests to remain below 15 percent for 14 days, the local testing capacity to reach 1,500 tests per day and less than 85 percent of combined acute care and intensive care units to be in use, according to the city’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The city has met its own requirements for the rate of positive tests and the combined usage of acute care and intensive care units. But it still has not reached the benchmarks for new cases, new deaths and daily tests as of Friday afternoon.
Dzirasa said the city’s average rate of positive coronavirus tests has been decreasing and the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 has held steady.
However, she said the average number of new cases has increased, the number of new deaths due to COVID-19 has remained relatively steady, and there’s been an almost 12 percent increase in its average case counts compared to last week.
Dzirasa said Baltimore City continues to see one of the highest rates of positive tests in Maryland.
Baltimore City’s average rate of positive tests is higher than the statewide average and the average of 20 of the 23 other jurisdictions in Maryland as of Friday morning, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 Data Dashboard.
“The decision to move forward, pause or move backward in the phases of reopening is a judgement call based on an overview of all of the key metrics,” Dzirasa said. “Ideally we’d like to allow at least one month from one phase to another to really study how reopening has affected the case data and hospital utilization rates.”
Dzirasa added that the city needs to wait longer to see any sustained trends in coronavirus measurements.
“Only time tells whether a data point is trending positively or negatively,” she said. “A period of one to two weeks is generally not sufficient time to see the impacts of decisions made on reopening.”
Hogan kicked off phase one of the state’s coronavirus recovery plan on May 15 by lifting the statewide stay-at-home order and allowing some businesses and houses of worship to reopen.
Two weeks later, on May 29, Hogan allowed restaurants to reopen outdoor dining and other activities to resume, still under phase one.
Then, on June 5, three weeks after beginning phase one, Maryland entered phase two of its recovery plan as Hogan allowed an array of non-essential businesses to reopen.
Baltimore City fully entered phase one of the state’s recovery plan on June 8.
Hogan announced yesterday that gyms and fitness studios will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity, effective at 5 p.m. on June 19.
Dr. Tom Inglesby, a Johns Hopkins pandemics expert and one of Hogan’s advisers in the state’s response to COVID-19, on Thursday said Maryland is moving too quickly in easing coronavirus-related restrictions.
Businesses that are allowed to reopen should take precautions to reduce the spread of coronavirus, including limiting the number of people in the establishment at one time, establishing protocols to screen employees before they come to work and creating sick leave policies that allow workers who are ill to stay at home without the risk of losing their job, Dzirasa said.
“Coronavirus has not gone anywhere,” she said. “Instead of relaxing, the reopening of businesses should raise everyone’s levels of vigilance. Businesses should make every effort to keep their employees and their customers safe.”
Dzirasa added that everyone should continue washing their hands, practicing social distancing and wearing face coverings.
Young announced that starting at 6 a.m. on Monday, the Harbor Connector Service will resume with limited routes and capacity.
The service will run from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 50 percent capacity and all passengers must wear face coverings.
The Harbor Connector will run two routes: one from Maritime Park to Locust Point, and the other from Pier 5 to Federal Hill Harbor View.
The Harbor View pier will be open to the public and will replace the Rusty Scupper pier, which will no longer serve as a Harbor Connector pier.
The Department of Transportation will not be operating the Dock Master’s office this summer season.
Instead, the department will allow free mooring at select Inner Harbor piers for up to 24 hours.
Those locations include the Finger Piers and Piers 3, 4 and 5 at the West Wall.
Young said he hopes the initiative will encourage boaters to come to the Inner Harbor and visit Baltimore restaurants and shops.
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