Maryland will lift its stay-at-home order and allow retail stores, barber shops, hair salons, manufacturers, places of worship and other select locations to reopen at limited capacity, effective 5 p.m. Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced today.
But the decision about whether any or all of those places can in fact reopen will ultimately fall to the executives of the state’s 24 local jurisdictions, Hogan said.
Hogan said Maryland is ready to begin its first stage of recovery after the state’s number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations, intensive care admissions, and deaths have plateaued, and some have declined, over the past 14 days.
He added that the four building blocks needed for the state to safely begin reopening–expanded testing capability, increased hospital surge capacity, a larger supply of personal protective equipment, and a robust contact tracing operation–are now in place.
Under the first stage of the recovery plan, Maryland will lift its stay-at-home order and move to a “safer at home” public health advisory, Hogan said.
Retail stores, barber shops, hair salons, places of worship will be permitted to reopen with 50 percent capacity.
Pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, car washes and art galleries are also allowed to reopen.
Places of worship and businesses must continue to require customers, staff and other individuals to wear face coverings, and should maintain at least six feet of distance between individuals.
Retail stores are encouraged to continue curbside pick-up and delivery. Personal services, such as barber shops and hair salons, may be conducted by appointment only.
Places of worship are encouraged to hold services outside. Indoor services may be conducted at no greater than 50 percent capacity.
Manufacturers may resume operations, but are encouraged to maintain social distance between employees, establish multiple shifts to reduce the number of people working at the same time, and take other health and safety precautions.
The governor did not announce any changes to restaurants and bars, which have remained closed since March. The opening of those establishments is listed under stage two of the state’s recovery plan. Restaurants and bars are allowed to continue pick-up and delivery services.
However, Hogan acknowledged that some jurisdictions have fared worse than the state as a whole, and he is leaving it up to those jurisdictions’ executives to decide whether to actually begin the first stage of the state’s recovery plan.
The eight largest jurisdictions in Maryland have some of the largest numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and confirmed COVID-19 deaths in the state. Those jurisdictions include Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Harford, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City.
As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, there have been 10,072 confirmed cases in Prince George’s County; 7,283 in Montgomery County; 4,160 in Baltimore County; 3,476 in Baltimore City; 2,596 in Anne Arundel County; 1,302 in Frederick County; 1,258 in Howard County; and 629 in Harford County, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 Case Map Dashboard.
There have been 386 confirmed deaths due to COVID-19 in Montgomery County; 370 in Prince George’s County; 203 in Baltimore County; 177 in Baltimore City; 123 in Anne Arundel County; 74 in Frederick County; 36 in Howard County; and 24 in Harford County.
The jurisdictions account for 82 percent of Maryland’s confirmed deaths due to coronavirus and 88 percent of Maryland’s confirmed cases.
Shortly after Hogan’s press conference, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. released a joint statement saying they would use the next 24 hours to review Hogan’s proposals and decide on next steps.
They said the Baltimore region still needs more personal protective equipment, increased testing capacity and more contact tracing–three of the governor’s building blocks.
“We’ve seen some progress in each of these areas, but we have to do even more,” they said.
While acknowledging the sacrifices businesses and individuals have made during the pandemic, they said rushing to reopen would jeopardize “the lives of our neighbors and loved ones.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Young said leaders of the state’s “Big Eight” jurisdictions were in regular contact and agreed to proceed with caution.
“We don’t feel comfortable right now to really open right now,” he said. “We’re going to continue follow the advice of our health professionals and decide. When they say it’s time to relax some things, we’ll do it.”
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman tweeted that in the coming days he and his county’s health officials will review the state’s proposals of restrictions that are allowed to be lifted and will announce which ones they will implement.
Today, @GovLarryHogan inched forward on the Roadmap to Recovery, allowing some restrictions to be lifted where local health officials believe that metrics have been achieved. In the coming days I’ll review the proposals with @aahealth and announce which ones we will implement.
— County Executive Steuart Pittman (@AACoExec) May 13, 2020
The county does not yet have a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment and testing is “growing slowly, but much too slowly,” he said.
“The 500,000 test kits from South Korea still need swabs and reagents, so our county is also looking elsewhere,” Pittman said. “We hope to report good news on that front soon.”
Some state legislators criticized Hogan’s decision to begin reopening now, saying that the move has come “too soon.”
Despite Hogan saying that all four building blocks for recovery are in place, Del. Sheila Ruth (D-Baltimore County) said the state still lacks widespread testing and has shortages of personal protective equipment.
It’s much too soon to reopen. @GovLarryHogan ‘s own plan says we can’t reopen until we have 4 building blocks, and we don’t yet have widespread testing, and there are still PPE shortages. Hogan is rushing it to appease the small but vocal minority.
— Delegate Sheila Ruth, District 44B (@SheilaRuthD44B) May 13, 2020
Del. Vaughn Stewart (D-Montgomery County) said reopening now will cause workers to either endanger their health or unemployment benefits. He noted the Maryland Department of Labor’s struggles to process claims and get Marylanders their benefits, calling the unemployment system “dysfunctional,” and labeled testing in the state “a complete farce.”
One weird trick to fix a completely dysfunctional unemployment system: reopen! This will force workers to either risk their health or lose their benefits.
It’s too soon—our testing regime is a complete farce. As usual, working people will bear the burden of this decision. https://t.co/JB73MFGFog
— Vaughn Stewart (@DelegateStewart) May 13, 2020
In response to a reporter’s question, Hogan clarified that the tests his administration purchased from South Korea were never going to be distributed to the counties, because they are used to process the swabs collected at various testing sites.
“That’s what the scientists use when they finalize the testing. They don’t go out to anywhere,” he said. “What goes out to the counties is the swabs and the extraction tubes.”
The Hogan administration has been criticized for not distributing the test kits the governor purchased from South Korea with help from First Lady Yumi Hogan–including by Rep. Anthony Brown, Hogan’s opponent in the 2014 gubernatorial election.
Hogan said the state can now process 8,000 tests a day and is ahead of schedule on a state-backed lab at the University of Maryland to increase testing capacity by 20,000 per day.
He added that, after requesting them for months, the state received 75,000 swabs and extraction tubes from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will be distributed to the counties. The federal agency has committed to deliver a total of 225,000 sets of swabs and tubes.
Hogan said it was a difficult decision to begin reopening Maryland, but that it was made in consultation with local leaders, public health experts and business leaders.
“We’re going to continue to watch and continue to monitor this on a daily basis, but we believe it’s the right decision at this point in time,” he said. “Obviously some people think we’re moving too fast and some think we’re moving too slow, so it’s probably about the right move.”
He also advised that Marylanders cannot “go crazy” and do things that are unsafe. If that happens, the state “would balloon back up and slow down the process,” he said.
“If everyone responds responsibly, we’ll be able to move forward quicker,” he added.
Last week, Hogan permitted hospitals and healthcare providers to conduct elective procedures and appointments at their discretion, and allowed certain “lower risk” outdoor activities to resume–both originally parts of the first stage of the “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” plan, which had not yet begun at the time.
Local jurisdictions were also permitted to resume those outdoor activities at their discretion.
Brandon Weigel contributed to this story.