ANNAPOLIS — Maryland will reopen for some activities with an eye toward easing more restrictions in the coming week, but schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year as the state continues to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gov. Larry Hogan’s announcement Wednesday was less than some who are pushing for a full economic reboot would want.
“I realize that these are only small steps and that they may be of little comfort to those who are out of work and who are struggling financially,” Hogan said. “But it is thanks to all of you and your incredible sacrifices that we are making progress. We are flattening the curve.”
Hogan has found himself the target of criticism from some groups and even those in his own party who believe his actions in battling the novel coronavirus pandemic have gone on too long and unnecessarily dealt pain and hardship on small businesses and forced more than 340,000 people out of work so far.
The governor said he remained hopeful that the state could enter phase one of his recovery plan but said he would not commit yet to a date.
“We’ve now got a pretty good trend for seven or eight days so we’re going to take another look at that next week,” Hogan said.
Teaching will continue in the makeshift classrooms at dining room and kitchen tables and bedroom desks for hundreds of thousands of Maryland public school students staying at home.
State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon said Wednesday that all public schools will be closed for the rest of the academic year. Distance and online learning will continue for the balance of the school year.
Nearly two weeks ago, Hogan announced a three-phase plan that is similar to both federal guidelines and those issued by the National Governor’s Association — Hogan is the chair — to reopen the state. The governor said at the time he hoped to start reopening the state and its decimated economy this week.
None of the phases resemble a pre-pandemic society, and Hogan and other experts say a vaccine may be needed for that to happen.
“I’m not committing to it because the numbers could spike back up and we’d say sorry, not moving forward, but if the numbers continue to show these positive signs we could be ready to move forward.”
Starting Thursday at 7 a.m., state parks and beaches will be open for walking and hiking, as will playgrounds at those parks. Golf and boating will also be allowed.
“All of this is predicated on people taking personal responsibility, on following the public health guidelines, on maintaining social distancing,” Hogan said. “We’re still encouraging people to, whenever possible, wear masks, to avoid crowds of more than 10 people together, staying six feet apart but whenever you have more people outside doing more things you run the risk of people not listening to that kind of advice.”
Hogan’s order comes days before Ocean City is scheduled to reopen its beaches and boardwalk to the public. Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan made the announcement earlier in the week and said that he would not bar nonresidents of the beach town from coming to the shore.
Hogan, speaking on Wednesday, said the mayor made the decision on his own but sidestepped questions about whether other local leaders were free to decide to open up venues in their jurisdictions.
“The boardwalk is just like any other street,” Hogan said. “You can walk down it. The mayor decided to close it and then the mayor decided to open it. The businesses are not open.”
The governor’s non-essential travel order remains in place. An order declaring a state of emergency is set to expire on Sunday but is expected to be renewed before that happens.
Hogan announced that elective procedures, including dental visits and mammograms, can resume at the discretion of local hospitals.
But the governor and his public health advisers cautioned that strict social distancing and covering of faces should continue.
“This virus is still with us,” said Dr. David Marcozzi, a member of Hogan’s COVID-19 advisory team.
Watch the video below.
This item has been updated. An earlier version of this story misstated Gov. Larry Hogan’s position at the National Governors Association. He is the chair.