Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that he will lift the statewide stay-at-home order at 5 p.m. Friday. The order will be replaced with a “safer at home” public health advisory.
After the order is lifted, retail stores will be able to open to 50% capacity, with masking and distancing measures. Manufacturing will also be allowed to resume, with measures in place to protect workers.
Personal services such as barber shops will be able to reopen at 50% of capacity, and religious services can resume, with outdoor services strongly encouraged.
Not eased were requirements for wearing masks in stores and other retail establishments and on public transportation. Hogan said those practices must remain and called on the public to continue to observe social distancing measures as well as frequently washing hands and disinfecting high-touch surfaces.
In a clear nod to Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Hogan said local governments hard-hit by the pandemic are “empowered” to set their own guidelines.
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.
“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.”
Hogan has been facing a changing landscape as calls to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic life have grown louder in recent weeks.
The two-month state of emergency followed by a closure of so-called non-essential businesses has thrown nearly 500,000 people onto the state’s unemployment rolls. On Tuesday nearly 1,100 people testified live and by pre-recorded video before the Senate Finance and Budget and Taxation Committees complaining about an inability to file claims or lack of payments.
The governor also faces a state that geographically and politically is in different places when it comes to reopening.
In rural, mostly Republican areas, cases have been the lowest in the state. Residents in those areas want to move more quickly.
Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan announced that town’s would reopen the iconic boardwalk and beaches. The announcement came days before Hogan announced he would ease some restrictions as hospitalizations and intensive care cases continue to plateau or drop.
More urban, Democratic areas that saw the vast majority of cases want to move more slowly to resume business as usual.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Tuesday that his jurisdiction and seven other larger Maryland counties may want to move more slowly.
Last week, leaders of Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties announced that those jurisdictions were not yet ready to enter phase one. One of every two cases in the state come from those two counties.
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.
Hogan’s three-phase plan does allow for some flexibility for county and municipal governments and regional differences in infection and hospitalization rates.
And while each phased allows for greater freedom of movement and some return to normalcy, none represent a return to life before the pandemic. Public health experts caution that a vaccine and greater public immunity would be needed.Hogan, a week ago, announced that some outpatient elective procedures and medical appointments could resume along with golfing, tennis, boating, camping and fishing.
But Hogan’s plans don’t call for significant changes, such as increasing the size of allowed social gatherings, reopening daycare centers, bars, restaurants and indoor religious services until phase two.
The state would need to show continued downward trends for at least two weeks to move to the next stage. Hogan has warned that the move to each successive phase could take longer than the one before.
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)