By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO

As Baltimore moves forward taking gradual steps to reopen after a citywide lockdown to stem the spread of COVID-19, one theme that has emerged is caution.  

While the city has seen a significant decline in the number of new cases of infections resulting from the virus, concern remains that moving too quickly to a sense of normalcy is risky and could erase any progress made to date.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young is implementing a methodical approach to reopening Baltimore as cases of
COVID-19 spike in other parts of the country. (Photo/AFRO)

“I think we have to be very careful,” Josh Sharfstein, Vice Dean at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health told the AFRO.  

“Social distancing and wearing a mask are going to be very important for a while.” 

Last week the city entered phase two of its planned emergence from more than three months under a stay-at-home order.  The plan mirrors statewide guidance that recommended three stages for reopening businesses and recreational facilities to the public based upon meeting key metrics like decline in new cases and hospital capacity utilization. \

Phase two allows restaurants to serve customers at no more than 50 percent capacity. Gyms and churches can also reopen provided they remain half full.  It also allows non-essential businesses to operate within safety guidelines by maintaining social distancing, along with attractions like the Baltimore Zoo to open to the public. 

It’s a gradual process that the mayor’s office said would be subject to ongoing evaluation as city officials continue to monitor key metrics as reopening progresses.

“We’ve been methodical and opened slowly so Baltimore city has not become a hotspot,” Lester Davis, spokesman for Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young told the AFRO

“And we want to make sure we don’t reverse those gains.” 

Young issued a series of stay at home orders designed to slow the spread of the virus.    Since then, the city like the state has seen a slow but steady decrease in new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.

Baltimore city has recorded 7,148 cases of the illness caused by COVID19 since the pandemic began and at least 310 deaths. 

But concerns remain that those hard-earned gains could evaporate quickly.  Especially with regions that re-opened earlier like Texas, Florida and Arizona experiencing near exponential growth in cases and setting records for the numbers of new infections daily.  

Part of the city’s ability to move forward will be consistent messaging, says Sharfstein.  Making it clear that even as life returns to some sense of normalcy, social distancing and wearing a mask will be essential to making the gains stick. 

“I have a general sense there is greater compliance and more caution here than in other places.  I think that reflects the consistency of message.” 

City Council President and presumptive mayor Brandon Scott also expressed caution, urging residents to remain vigilant about social distancing and hygiene as they return to work. 

“I want everyone to be able to go back to work and have some sense of normalcy, but we should not start thinking that this pandemic is over,” Scott said.

“Everyone should continue practicing social distancing, wearing masks when in public, washing their hands regularly, avoiding large gatherings, and taking the threat of COVID-19 just as seriously as we did back in March.”

Despite the ongoing battle with a virus that could remain a threat for years, small glimmers of hope have emerged amid a torrent of bad news. Erika Hamlett’s 91 year-old uncle, a resident at FutureCare’s Lochearn long term care facility, tested positive in April for COVID19.  

But since then he has made a slow but steady recovery, and she was allowed to see him via Zoom for the first time in months.  

“He lost weight and was very sick for a few weeks, but he’s doing so much better,” she said.  

“I’m grateful.”