Effective 5 p.m. on Friday, restaurants will be allowed to reopen for outdoor dining, outdoor swimming pools will be allowed to open at limited capacity, and youth camps and sports leagues can start up with certain restrictions, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.
Hogan said Maryland has seen a decrease in its positivity rate, coronavirus-related hospitalizations and COVID-19 patients in intensive care units.
And while Maryland is not yet ready to start the second phase of the state’s recovery plan, it may be able to begin if those metrics show positive trends into next week, Hogan said.
In the meantime, Hogan announced partial reopenings of some businesses and activities.
Restaurants will be able to reopen for outdoor dining starting Friday.
They must distance patrons and there can only be a maximum of six people at a table. Restaurants also must have disposable paper menus or sanitize menus between use, and sanitize outdoor tables and chairs between each customer seating.
Staff must undergo daily temperature checks and wear face coverings when interacting with other employees or patrons.
Hogan said he supports the idea of closing streets, parking lots and outdoor public spaces in places like Little Italy and Fells Point for outdoor restaurant seating.
Social organizations, such as the American Legion, Veterans of Foreign Wars and Elk Club, can also resume outdoor dining.
Outdoor pools may reopen at no more than 25 percent capacity. Pools must require patrons to sign in and out, and must post signage warning people not to enter if they are sick.
Drive-in movie theaters will also be allowed to reopen.
Youth sports activities will be allowed to resume with low-contact outdoor practices, limited group sizes, limited touching of shared equipment and gear, and physical distancing while not playing.
Youth day camps may also resume for outdoor activities, but may not have more than 10 individuals in a group and must check staff and campers daily for COVID-19 symptoms. No out-of-state, overnight campers will be permitted.
As with his earlier decision to lift coronavirus-related restrictions, Hogan said local jurisdictions will have the ultimate decision on when to loosen regulations.
All businesses, organizations and individuals should continue to wear face coverings and practice physical distancing by staying at least six feet apart, Hogan said.
People should also avoid crowds, work from home if possible and avoid using public transportation “unless it is absolutely necessary,” Hogan said.
A full detailed list of reopening protocols can be found at: open.maryland.gov/backtobusiness.
Hogan said he was “a little bit shocked” by photos and videos of crowds at Ocean City’s boardwalk over Memorial Day weekend, which he said “didn’t appear to be too safe to me.”
In anticipation of Hogan’s announcement, Democratic lawmakers went on social media to challenge the claim that hospitalization goals have been met and ask questions about the state’s testing and contact tracing operations.
A group including the Maryland House Democrats, Baltimore City Delegation, and Montgomery County Dels. Vaughn Stewart (D), Eric Luedtke (D), Lorig Charkoudian (D), Bonnie Cullison (D), Jheanelle Wilkins (D) and Al Carr (D) shared a series of images questioning the administration’s handling of the virus, with the hashtag #WhatsHoganHiding.
One asks: “Hospitalization rate goals have not been met and we have the highest positive test ratio in the U.S.–why have your health officials told you it is safe to reopen Maryland?”
Others ask when the state will begin testing at all senior living facilities, the status of the 500,000 test kits Hogan acquired from South Korea and when contact tracing will operate statewide.
Prior to the Hogan’s announcement, Del. Sheila Ruth (D-Baltimore County) tweeted that rumors Hogan was moving to phase two of the state’s recovery plan were concerning, especially with hospitalizations increasing over the last two days.
“Maybe just a temporary spike, but given recent crowds of non-mask wearers, it would be prudent to wait to see the results from that,” Ruth said. “Also, there still are insufficient tests and PPE.”
During his press conference on Wednesday, Hogan said there are some people who believe he is moving too quickly with easing restrictions while others believe he is moving too slowly.
“I understand there’s going to be criticism on both sides and we’re not going to make everybody happy,” he said. “But we’re taking the best advice we can, we’re following all of those various guidelines, we’ve developed a plan, we’re following the plan, and we think we got it about right.”
Maryland has conducted at least 262,055 coronavirus tests to date and 48,423 of those tests, about 18 percent, came back positive, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 Case Map Dashboard.
The number of coronavirus patients in intensive care units has fluctuated over the last seven days, reaching as high as 539 people on May 20 and as low as 503 on May 24, before striking a middle ground of 520 as of today.
The number of Marylanders hospitalized for COVID-19 increased for the second day in a row today after previously decreasing for nine consecutive days.
But Hogan said state officials are analyzing the metrics over 14-day periods to monitor trends and make decisions about easing restrictions.
“If those two days become a solid week of numbers going up, that’s a concern and we’ll slow things down,” he said. “If it’s just a blip and everything else continues to go down as it has consistently, then we’ll be ready to continue to take steps to move forward.”
Hogan again sought to clarify that the test kits he acquired from South Korea are “only part” of the state’s testing strategy.
Two weeks ago he explained that the kits are used to process 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 on May 13. “What goes out to the counties is the swabs and the extraction tubes.”
Speaking today, Hogan said the state is still acquiring more swabs, testing tubes and reagents and expanding lab capacity to process COVID-19 tests.
He said a University of Maryland lab in which the state invested $2.5 million is up and running, though not yet at its full capacity of processing 20,000 tests per day.
“There are multiple components, as I announced, and we’ve been acquiring them all over the past month since I announced,” he said today.
On May 13, Hogan announced that Maryland was ready to begin the first phase of the state’s recovery plan and lifted its stay-at-home order and moved to a “safer at home” public health advisory.
The state allowed the reopening of retail stores, barber shops, hair salons, pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, car washes, art galleries, manufacturers, places of worship and other select locations at 50 percent capacity.
Businesses and places of worship had to continue to require customers, staff and other individuals to wear face coverings and maintain at least six feet of distance from others.
Personal services, such as barber shops and hair salons, were only allowed to be conducted by appointment.
Meanwhile, retail stores were encouraged to continue curbside pickup and delivery, and places of worship were encouraged to hold services outdoors.
Before the state even began phase one, Hogan allowed hospitals and health care facilities to resume elective procedures at their discretion. He also permitted “lower risk” outdoor activities, such as golf, tennis, boating, fishing and camping.
The second recovery phase is expected to raise the cap on social gatherings and allow some businesses and activities to resume indoor operations with restrictions.
Brandon Weigel contributed to this story.
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