Non-essential businesses allowed to reopen Friday, but Hogan cautions that not all should

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Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday announced that Maryland was ready to begin phase two of the state’s recovery plan. Screengrab via Facebook Live.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday announced that Maryland will allow nail and tanning salons, various office buildings, and other non-essential businesses to reopen effective 5 p.m. on Friday as the state enters phase two of its recovery plan.

State government offices, including the Motor Vehicle Administration and other agencies that work directly with customers will reopen on an appointment-only basis starting Monday, June 8.

Hogan said the state is ready to begin phase two of the three-phase “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” plan after seeing 14-day declines in the seven-day rate of positive tests, the number of hospitalizations due to coronavirus, and the number of COVID-19 patients in intensive care units–key metrics that officials have been monitoring as they determine when and how to ease restrictions.

The positivity rate has decreased for 14 days, as have the number of coronavirus-related hospitalizations other than a two-day increase last week.

The number of COVID-19 patients in intensive has fluctuated but has generally followed a slight downward trend during that 14-day period.

Public health experts recommend that states increase their testing capacity at least until the percentage of test results that come back positive is 10 percent or lower.

Maryland recorded an average positivity rate of 9.5 percent on Wednesday morning, dipping below that 10 percent benchmark for the first time.

Hogan said that although the White House publicly offered for Maryland to use federal labs for coronavirus testing, those labs still are not available several months later.

Instead, the state has partnered with the University of Maryland Baltimore School of Medicine’s Institute for Genome Sciences, where they have converted a research lab into a coronavirus testing lab. That lab is now fully operational and able to process tests, Hogan said.

Starting Friday, nail salons and tanning salons will be able to reopen by appointment only and at 50 percent capacity.

Hogan has also allowed the reopening of manufacturers, construction companies, legal offices, insurance agencies, design studios, advertising and architectural firms, media production companies, real estate offices, travel agencies, auto dealers, showrooms, bank branches, and various other businesses.

Hogan encouraged all businesses to use face coverings, check staff members’ temperatures to screen for COVID-19 symptoms, and maintain distance among employees with staggered schedules and fewer people per shift.

Even with precautions in place, Hogan said businesses should evaluate for themselves whether now is the right time to reopen.

“While we are excited to get much of our economy restarted, I want to be very clear: Just because Marylanders can return to the office doesn’t mean that they should,” he said, adding that employees should continue to telework if they can.

On Monday, the MVA and other state government offices will reopen by appointment only, with staff wearing face coverings and stations outfitted with Plexiglas dividers.

Maryland will also begin to gradually return to “more normal” transit schedules as more residents return to the workplace, Hogan said.

Hogan added that the Maryland State Department of Education will continue to gradually reopen childcare centers for parents heading back to work.

As schools approach the end of the school year, state officials will also be considering allowing additional outdoor activities to resume, Hogan said.

As with phase one of the state’s recovery, Hogan said local jurisdictions will have the discretion to decide when and how to ease restrictions under phase two.

“Moving into stage 2 is an important step forward for our state after what has been a very difficult period, and the people of our great state have endured so many significant personal, medical and economic challenges,” Hogan said. “But in the face of the
most daunting challenge of our lifetime, people of Maryland have been resilient, they have never lost hope, and they are showing what it truly means to be Maryland strong.”

The state is beginning phase two of its coronavirus recovery plan in the midst of protests in Maryland and across the country against police brutality and racial injustice, a movement sparked by the death of black Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody.

Floyd died May 25 after officer Derek Chauvin, who is white, pinned him down with his knee on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes, cellphone video footage showed.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison on Wednesday charged Chauvin with second-degree murder in addition to the original charges against him: third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter with culpable negligence.

Hogan began his press conference by calling attention to the “senseless murder of George Floyd, which has served as another reminder that we still have a long way to go to live up to our nation’s highest ideals.”

He later condemned Chauvin’s actions again, calling them “completely unexcusable.”

“This wasn’t just a bad cop or bad policing. This was a murder in a police uniform, right? This is beyond anything you can possibly imagine,” he said.

Demonstrators in Baltimore have protested against since last Friday, including a youth-led march on Monday through downtown and along the Jones Falls Expressway.

“I am incredibly proud that during this difficult time, the people of Baltimore City have set an example for the rest of America,” he said.

However, Hogan said he was also concerned about the increased risk of the spread of coronavirus as protesters gather closely together.

He urged protesters to take advantage of free coronavirus testing sites.

Marcus Dieterle

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