By BRIAN WITTE, Associated Press

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) – Maryland residents will no longer be required to stay at home but will be strongly advised to continue doing so, especially if they are older and more vulnerable to the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan said May 13 as he announced the first stage of a state recovery plan and the reopening of retail stores with limits.

The Republican governor said the state is gradually moving into stage one of the state’s recovery plan at 5 p.m. Friday, after 14 days of plateauing of key hospital metrics. He also said the decision came after consultation with a state team of public health experts and business leaders.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a news conference in Annapolis, Md., Wednesday, May 13, 2020. Maryland residents will no longer be required to stay at home, but they will be strongly advised to continue to do so, especially if they are older and more vulnerable to the coronavirus, Hogan said Wednesday as he announced a statewide order that will take effect later this week. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)

“I want to be very clear: while lifting the stay at home order and gradually moving into stage one of our recovery is a positive step forward, it does not mean that we are safe or that this crisis is over,” Hogan said at a news conference. “Low risk does not mean no risk. All Marylanders, particularly those older and more vulnerable populations, are advised to continue staying home as much as possible.”

In contrast, on May 14, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced an extension of Baltimore City’s Stay at Home order, to allow more time for key benchmarks to be reached in the City’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As I have said from the beginning of this state of emergency, we are going to follow the data and listen to what our public health experts are telling us – and right now, they are saying it is still too soon to reopen,” Mayor Young said.

“While we are continuing to work with the State to expand testing capacity, the simple truth is that we need more tests to safely reopen. Without more testing capacity, it would be irresponsible to begin the reopening process.”

A sentiment echoed in the D.C. Mayor’s office. As of May 13, Mayor Muriel Bowser also extended the city’s stay at home order to June 8.

“We are pleased to say that in the District the number of positive cases are far lower than what we predicted, but we have yet to see a 14-day decline in community transmission, so we continue to have a lot of work to do to stop the spread of the virus in our city.”

In Maryland, retail stores may reopen at up to 50% capacity, with curbside pickup and delivery strongly encouraged and all public health precautions in place. Examples of businesses that may reopen include clothing and shoe stores, pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, car washes, art galleries and bookstores.

All manufacturing may resume operations, with multiple shifts encouraged.

Churches and houses of worship may start holding religious services, at up to 50% capacity, with outdoor services strongly encouraged.

Some personal services, including barbershops and hair salons, may open with up to 50% capacity and by appointment only.

Maryland residents are still urged to work from home if they can. A requirement that people wear masks in public areas indoors will remain in effect. Limits prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people will remain in place, with the exception of religious gatherings.

The plan provides a flexible and community-based approach that enables individual jurisdictions to make decisions on the timing of stage one reopenings. Local governments can keep restrictions in place, but they can only act within the guidelines announced by the governor.

Hogan noted that officials in two of Maryland’s largest jurisdictions, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties in the suburbs of the nation’s capital, have made clear they are not ready to move into stage one. Of the state’s 34,812 confirmed cases, 10,072 are in Prince George’s, and 7,283 are in Montgomery. Baltimore County has 4,160 cases, and the city of Baltimore has the fourth-highest number with 3,476.

Hogan also noted that other counties in the state feel strongly that they are able to begin stage one.

“As our state cautiously moves forward we fully understand that not all counties are in the same situation,” Hogan said. “Just four of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions currently account for more than 70% of our state’s total confirmed cases.”

Some counties in rural parts of the state have had far fewer cases. Foe example, Garrett County in western Maryland has had six confirmed cases. Somerset County, on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has reported 51 cases — the second fewest number of confirmed cases for a Maryland jurisdiction.

As of Wednesday morning, Maryland has confirmed 34,812 virus cases. That was 751 more cases than on Tuesday. Maryland also has had a total of 1,694 confirmed deaths, 51 more than on the day before. Maryland has had 138,762 negative test results. On Wednesday, 1,550 people were hospitalized in the state due to the virus. That’s 13 less than on Tuesday.

AFRO Staff contributed to this article.