Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday presented a three-stage recovery plan to reopen Maryland businesses and gathering places, but he said the state is not yet ready to begin easing the restrictions his administration has implemented over the past two months to limit the spread of coronavirus.
While outlining the details of his “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery,” Hogan said the each stage of the plan will need to be implemented in a “safe, gradual and effective manner.”
“If we try to rush this and if we don’t do it in a thoughtful and responsible way, it could cause a rebound of the virus, which could deepen the economic crisis, prolong the fiscal problems and slow our economic recovery,” he said.
Stage one of the recovery plan would lift the stay-at-home order and would allow some small businesses reopen and “lower risk” community activities to resume. Outdoor religious gatherings with a limited number of attendees; elective outpatient surgeries; car washes; outdoor fitness classes; and recreational activities like boating, fishing, golfing, tennis, hiking and hunting would all be allowed. Local governments would also have the discretion to reopen parks, libraries and other local services.
Stage two would raise the cap on social gatherings and allow more businesses and activities to resume, including childcare centers, indoor gyms, indoor religious worship, and elective procedures at hospitals. Restaurants and bars would also be allowed to reopen with restrictions, such as spacing tables six feet apart and requiring servers to wear face masks and gloves.
Stage three would allow for larger social and religious gatherings, reopen entertainment venues and high-capacity bars and restaurants, and visitations at nursing homes and hospitals.
But before Maryland is even able to begin the first stage, Hogan said the state must maintain a 14-day downward trajectory of the number of new deaths, intensive care patients and hospitalizations related to COVID-19. He said state officials will be focusing on those metrics rather than figures like the state’s total number of confirmed COVID-19 cases, because the case total will continue to rise as the state ramps up its testing capability.
Although the state’s total of confirmed coronavirus cases is continuing to rise, the number of new Marylanders being hospitalized for COVID-19 has decreased every day this week.
Hogan added that Maryland has made “considerable progress” on four “building blocks” that will aid that recovery: expanding testing, raising hospitals’ surge capacity, increasing the state’s supply of personal protective equipment and building up the state’s contact tracing operations.
On that last pillar, Hogan said Maryland has quadrupled its ability to conduct contact tracing with a total of 1,000 contact tracers.
Earlier this week, Maryland also obtained 500,000 testing kits from South Korea.
With the ability to conduct half a million more tests, Hogan on Monday set a goal for the state to conduct 20,000 tests each day.
Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said early social distancing measures helped prevent Maryland from experiencing a rapid rise in cases.
Without those measures in place, Inglesby said the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland could have doubled every five or six days.
Despite some signs of improvement, Hogan cautioned that the road to recovery will not be quickly traveled.
“Even as we begin our recovery, we won’t be able to just flip a switch,” he said. “Unfortunately, life is not going to just immediately go back to normal.”
Hogan said the way people live and work will be “significantly different” until a vaccine is developed.
As the state gradually reopens, older adults should stay home as much as possible and all Marylanders should continue to avoid crowds and practice social distancing, Hogan said.
Seven weeks ago, state health officials confirmed the first three COVID-19 cases in Maryland, all in Montgomery County, and Hogan declared a state of emergency in Maryland.
Less than a week later, Hogan convened COVID-19 response team, which included experts in public health and emergency management.
Today, Hogan said that group has evolved into a COVID-19 recovery team. The team will keep its health and emergency management experts, but will also be joined by business leaders.
The additional members include Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford; Kevin Plank, executive chairman of Under Armour; Arne Sorenson, president and CEO of Marriott Hotels; Augie Chiasera, president of M&T Bank’s Baltimore and Chesapeake regions; Robert Doar, president of American Enterprise Institute; Jim Davis, chairman of Allegis Group; and Mark McManus, central president of United Association.
Hogan has also assembled two groups of faith-based and community organization leaders and 13 groups of industry-specific commerce groups, such as small business, retail, restaurants, construction and manufacturing.
Those groups will help develop plans with proposed guidelines to keep employees, customers and other members of their industries safe, Hogan said.
Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz said the Maryland Department of Commerce has identified about $25 million worth of eligible small business grant applications.
The department has also received more than 230 applications for the agency’s emergency manufacturing incentive for companies to produce personal protective equipment and other needed supplies. So far, 15 of those grants have been approved, she said.
As the state approaches the process of recovering from the COVID-19 crisis, Schulz said the state will be encouraging people to purchases goods and services locally from Maryland-based businesses and manufacturers.
“Maryland will rebound from this pandemic, but it will require collaboration and teamwork,” she said.
The Maryland Department of Labor on Friday morning launched a new online unemployment insurance application. But soon after the application launched, users complained about glitches.
Hogan said he was “very frustrated” that the outside vendor who developed the website did not have it ready to handle the volume of applicants. Since then, he said the vendor has got the application back online and it is “performing much better” despite a few glitches throughout the day.
“We’ll hold their feet to the fire to make sure they get all the glitches worked out. But we’re happy we launched the site and I’m frustrated it didn’t go off perfectly,” he said.