By BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday announced plans aimed at phasing in a safe and gradual approach to reopening the state’s businesses and easing restrictions on activities when key indicators involving the coronavirus drop.
Maryland is expected to continue to see an increasing number of cases, because the state is increasing testing, Hogan said. For the purposes of recovery, the governor said the state is most focused on the rate of hospitalizations and the number of patients admitted to intensive care.
Although the governor said the initial steps in reopening businesses and loosening restrictions could happen in early May, he conceded that was a hopeful estimate.
“I want to stress that each of these recovery stages will need to be instituted in a safe, gradual and effective manner,” Hogan said. “If we try to rush this and if we don’t do it in a thoughtful and responsible way, it could cause a rebound of the virus which could deepen the economic crisis, prolong the fiscal problems and slow the economic recovery.”
The state reported Friday that there have been a total of 16,616 cases of the virus so far in Maryland, with an increase of 879 cases compared with the day before. There have been 723 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the state. That’s 43 more deaths than Thursday.
The plan calls for people who are currently teleworking to continue to do so for the duration of a state of emergency. Social distancing and requirements to wear masks also would continue until the state of emergency ends.
In the first stage of the plan Hogan is calling “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery,” a stay-at-home order would be lifted. It would enable some small shops and certain small businesses to open. Elective medical and dental procedures at ambulatory, outpatient and medical offices would be allowed, as would limited attendance at outdoor religious gatherings. Recreational boating, fishing, golf, hiking and hunting also would be permitted.
The governor noted the state has made progress in four major areas that need to be firmly in place before the state can consider lifting restrictions. Those include expanding testing capability, increasing hospital surge capacity, acquiring more personal protective equipment and a robust contact tracing operation.
The governor said the second stage of the plan will enable a large number of businesses and activities to come back online. Businesses that reopen during this period will need to comply with strict physical distancing and appropriate masking requirements. The stage includes numerous steps over many weeks toward recovery. It would include raising the cap on social gatherings and allowing indoor religious gatherings. Restaurants and bars could open with restrictions.
A third stage would involve allowing higher-risk activities, but the administration cautions that there’s no realistic time frame for reaching that level. It would allow larger social gatherings and reopening high-capacity bars and restaurants, as well as loosening restrictions on visits to nursing homes and hospitals. It also would include reopening entertainment venues and allowing larger religious gatherings.
Hogan emphasized that even as recovery begins, “we won’t be able to just flip a switch.”
“Unfortunately, life is not going to just immediately go back to normal,” Hogan said. “In fact, it is important to recognize that until a vaccine is developed, the way we go about our daily lives and the way we work is going to be significantly different for a while longer.”