Gov. Larry Hogan is praising federal guidelines offered as a road map for states looking to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic, but he cautions that the state is unlikely to ease restrictions soon.
Hogan, in an online interview with the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., said Maryland has yet to reach its peak of infections. A return to life resembling anything close to what it was before he imposed a state of emergency on March 5 is not likely to happen overnight.
“None of us believe, none of the governors believe, you can just flip a switch and get everything back to normal,” said Hogan, who is also chairman of the National Governors Association. “Just like we shut things down in a gradual (way) … I think we’ll gradually start easing things off and opening things up when we believe it is safe to do so.”
States such as Maryland could move toward reopening under a three-phase plan announced Thursday by President Donald Trump and his top advisers. Key to the recommendations are a significant drop in infections and the ability to do wholesale testing for the virus.
“We have increasing numbers right now, so we’re not quite ready,” said Hogan.
The federal plan — which is not a mandate on states — includes a series of phases and checkpoints meant to allow business to begin to resume. .
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a top adviser on the pandemic to Trump, said the guidelines are meant to mitigate additional cases of the disease.
“A light switch on and off is the exact opposite of what you see here,” said Fauci.
Hogan is considering a process under which the state can begin to reopen for business.
Hogan said he understood the angst felt by residents, including business owners itching to get their doors open after nearly a month and workers who are filing for unemployment benefits at historic levels.
“We all want to get the economy open and our states back open as quickly as possible, but we’re not going to do it in a way that endangers the lives of thousands of Marylanders,” said Hogan.
On Saturday, an executive order issued by Hogan earlier in the week will take effect and require residents going to stores to wear a face covering to limit spreading the virus.
“We understand that people have things they want to do in their lives,” said Hogan. “We’re not trying to take away anybody’s liberties or freedoms or lock ’em in the house, but this is a really critical time to keep people safe.”
A protest is scheduled for Annapolis this weekend to pressure Hogan to lift orders imposed in March that closed non-essential businesses.
Trump, in a news conference Thursday evening, said governors — not him — will make determinations on where their states are and how they attempt to return to a new normal that will likely not immediately resemble pre-pandemic American life.
“We want to have a working economy and we want to get it back very quickly,” said Trump, adding “We are not opening all at once but one careful step at a time.”
Under the guidelines, states would move through three phases that each require meeting certain statistical requirements in terms of the number of cases.
To enter phase one of the recommendations, states would have to show a downward trajectory of confirmed cases and testing, and positive test results over a 14-day period.
“You don’t get to phase one until you get through the gating,” said Fauci.
In Maryland’s case, the trajectory of confirmed cases has been relentlessly upward in the last few weeks.
Also, movement toward reopening under the Trump guidelines would require much more widespread testing than is now being conducted in Maryland and many other states.
In phase one, vulnerable residents would be asked to shelter in place and social distancing guidelines and mask recommendations would remain in place as would all hygiene recommendations, including hand washing. Teleworking would continue, and gatherings would be limited to 10 people. Non-essential travel would be discouraged. Restaurants and gyms could open under strict social distancing requirements but bars would remain closed. Schools and day care facilities would remain closed.
To move to phase two, states would have to show a new 14-day period of reduced cases, testing and positive test results.
In phase two, vulnerable people continue to remain home and teleworking is encouraged. Schools could re-open. Gatherings of 50 people or less would be permitted and non-essential travel could resume. Restaurants, gyms and bars could open under social distancing requirements.
To move to phase three, states would again have to show confirmed cases continue to decline over a 14-day period.
In phase three, vulnerable people can return to public interactions under social distancing requirements. Restrictions on workplaces would be removed. Larger venues could open with physical distancing and sanitation protocols.
States could go back and forth in the phases if there is a resurgence of cases.
“The flexibility is there,” said Fauci. “We may have to pull back a little and go forward.”
But Fauci said phase three “is not OK, game over.”
None of the phases resemble pre-pandemic life. Fauci and others said that would not likely happen until a vaccine is developed against the disease.