Maryland could lift its stay-at-home order and begin the first stage of the coronavirus recovery plan next week if the rate of hospitalizations and number of intensive care unit admissions continue to flatten or decline, Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday.
Hogan added that he is not committing to reopening the state “because the numbers could spike back up and we’ll say, ‘Sorry, we’re not moving forward.” But he said the state could proceed with its recovery plan “if the numbers continue to show these positive signs.”
Hogan said state officials are looking for at least a 14-day plateau of hospitalizations and intensive care admissions before the state can begin easing some coronavirus-related restrictions.
So far, Maryland has seen a “good trend” in the number of hospitalizations over the past seven days, and the number of intensive care admissions have been “basically flat” for eight days, Hogan said.
The first stage of the “Maryland Strong: Road to Recovery” plan would lift the stay-at-home order, allowing some businesses to reopen and “lower risk” community and religious activities to resume.
Maryland public schools will remain closed through the remainder of the current school year, but online and remote learning will continue, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced.
The Maryland State Department of Education released a long-term education recovery plan that will “lay the groundwork for coming months,” including how schools can recover lost instructional time and how to welcome students and staff back to buildings safely, Salmon said.
Per the plan, summer learning and other activities could return if the state enters stages two and three before the start of the next academic year.
Salmon said she does not envision that schools will reopen in the first stage of the state’s recovery, but she said schools may be able to partially reopen as part of the second and third stages.
At that point schools could welcome students back in smaller groups, either on A/B schedules or on alternating weeks with remote learning to fill in the gaps between in-person instruction. Schools could also bring back students with specific needs, such as children with disabilities and English Language Learners, Salmon said.
Salmon said the third stage of the recovery plan will include a full return of students back to schools, allowing school systems the “flexibility to adapt the model to best serve their needs.”
Ultimately, the decision to start classes during the summer and implement other parts of the education recovery plan will be up to each jurisdiction.
While the state has not yet begun the first stage of its recovery, Marylanders will be able to resume certain “lower risk” outdoor activities, such as golf, tennis, boating, fishing and camping, effective 7 a.m. Thursday, Hogan said.
State parks will open closed functions, including opening state beaches for walking and exercise, and safe playgrounds. Local governments will also be able to open parks at their own discretion, Hogan said.
Previously, Hogan ordered hospitals and health care facilities to stop performing elective procedures to protect hospital capacity and preserve supplies of personal protective equipment.
The Maryland Department of Health will immediately issue guidance to allow hospitals and health care facilities to resume elective procedures at their discretion, Hogan said.
Hogan said the state has made progress on the four building blocks that he had previously said must be in place before the state can begin reopening.
Maryland has increased its testing capacity with an additional 500,000 test kits that the state procured from South Korea last month, as well as other necessary supplies for conducting tests such as swabs and chemical reagents, Hogan said.
Hogan said Maryland has increased its supply of personal protective equipment with 4.5 million KN95 masks, 600,000 N95 masks, 150,000 medical gowns, 1.1 million face shields, and 3.5 million surgical gloves. This week, the state also launched its Maryland Manufacturing Network portal, an online platform to connect suppliers and buyers of PPE and other supplies.
Maryland has increased its hospital surge capacity with an additional 8,100 beds since the beginning of the pandemic, Hogan said.
He said the state has also built up its contact tracing operation by quadrupling its disease investigation capability through a contract with the National Opinion Research Center. Maryland is now able to perform contact tracing for up to 1,000 new cases per day.
Hogan said that the state’s unemployment website is “completely fixed and functioning” and that there is no wait time.
When the site was initially launched, it was unable to handle the volume of “hundreds of thousands trying to file at the same time,” Hogan said.
He added that the federal government handed down several changes that the state needed to make to its site, which added to delays. But now, he said the site has been fixed.
“I understand the frustration of the people, but I think we’re performing better than just about anyone in America,” he said.
Although the state could potentially begin reopening next week, Hogan said residents should continue to practice social distancing, personal hygiene and other measures to limit the spread of COVID-19.
Hogan added that some sectors may be slower to recover, or may not ever be able to fully return to how they operated before the pandemic struck.
“Even when we are at phase 3 and we open every single thing, some businesses are going to have a difficult time recovering or they’re going to have to evolve,” he said. “Because until we get a vaccine, I think people are going to be afraid to do certain things.”
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