Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young today moved Baltimore into phase two of its coronavirus recovery plan, loosening restrictions on retail businesses, indoor dining, sports games and other places and activities, effective 5 p.m. tonight.

“After carefully weighing a combination of factors, including our health-related data [and] the economic impacts of continuing the closures, and I have made the decision to expand reopenings,” Young said.

Under this step, fitness centers, museums, aquariums, restaurants, bars, clubs, libraries, social clubs, retail businesses, malls and non-essential offices can all open at 50 percent capacity.

Businesses that offer personal services, such as beauty salons, barbershops, nail salons, tattoo parlors and tanning salons, can also open at 50 percent capacity but by appointment only.

The Horseshoe Casino Baltimore will be allowed to reopen at 50 percent capacity with safeguards in place, such as masks for employees, social distancing guidelines and frequent sanitizing of high-touch surfaces.

Baltimoreans will also get to play sports and enjoy recreation at indoor and outdoor faclities.

Bowling alleys, bingo halls, pool halls, skating rinks and social clubs may all open at 50 percent capacity. Sports can resume at 50 percent capacity for indoor games and 100 percent for outdoor ones, but are not open to the general public.

Indoor and outdoor pools are also allowed to open at 50 percent capacity. The Department of Recreation & Parks said it has been preparing to reopen pools, youth sports and the Shake & Bake Family Fun Center in West Baltimore and will announce dates and details soon.

The city will allow religious services to be held indoors at 50 percent capacity.

Childcare facilities are now allowed to have 15 people per classroom, up from 10.

In all cases, residents are required to wear face coverings and encouraged to practice physical distancing and to frequently wash their hands with soap or use hand sanitizer.

Young and Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa stressed that the threat of the virus is far from over, or that the activities that are now allowed are risk-free.

“We will continue to monitor the data daily, and if things take a turn for the worse, I will not hesitate to reinstate restrictions,” Young said.

Dzirasa said health professionals are still learning a lot about COVID-19, pointing to a CDC study released this week revealing the pre-existing conditions of heart disease, diabetes and lung disease are most susceptible to the virus.

Deaths are 12 times higher and hospitalizations are six times higher among coronavirus patients with those conditions compared to otherwise healthy individuals who contract the disease.

“I want to be clear: The decision to reopen does not mean we are back to normal or that we have defeated the disease and the coronavirus has somehow disappeared,” Dzirasa said, adding that six states have seen sharp increases in new cases.

Baltimore is averaging between 85 to 90 new cases per day and two to three deaths from the virus per day, she said.

As of Friday morning, there have been 6,937 confirmed cases in the city and 298 Baltimoreans have died.

Young has generally chosen to move slower than the rest of the state in easing restrictions to slow the spread of the virus, at one point being reprimanded by Gov. Larry Hogan.

On June 10, the governor allowed for indoor dining at restaurants to start two days later, and pegged the reopening of gyms, indoor fitness studios, outdoor pools casinos, arcades, malls and amusements to today, June 19.

Young said on June 12 the city was not ready to enter phase two, and said police would be monitoring if any restaurant or bar was operating indoors.

“I don’t know what the governor is looking at,” Young said when asked about Hogan’s criticism. “I look at what my health professionals are telling me and the data. I don’t know what he’s looking at.”

Today’s announcement more or less brings Baltimore City in line with the governor’s plan.

Dzirasa said officials received lots of questions about how the city’s version of phase two differed from the state’s.

“For ease of compliance and just for general alignment, it made more sense to change our metrics to align with those of the state,” she said

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...