Gov. Larry Hogan has authorized the easing of more restrictions that had been imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, restaurants and social organizations may open for outdoor dining, following strict health requirements.
“We love the idea of closing streets for outside seating in Little Italy and Fells Point in Baltimore City, on West Street and Main Street in Annapolis, on Bethesda Row and in other towns across the state,” said Hogan.
Outdoor pools may reopen at 25% capacity with distancing and sanitizing measures, and users must sign in and sign out.
Youth sports may resume limited practices outdoors, and youth day camps can resume with symptom checks daily and groups limited to groups of 10 people. No out of state or overnight campers will be permitted and social distancing and masks will be required. Drive-in movie theaters will also be able to reopen.
“While we are moving to safely reopen our economy and put more people back to work, we want to continue to strongly stress the need to follow CDC guidelines,” said Hogan. The fight against this virus is by no means over. We must all continue to remain vigilant, particularly as we begin to come into contact with more people. Lower risk does not mean no risk and safer does not mean completely safe.”
The governor has faced increased pressure from restaurants to allow for reopening to allow outdoor seating on closed streets. Comptroller Peter Franchot over the last 10 days has called repeatedly for more flexibility for restaurant owners.
In a 5 p.m. news conference Wednesday, Hogan described the easing of restrictions as a full move into phase one of his recovery plan but some items, such as allowing restaurants the ability to resume table service, are part of phase two, which has yet to be reached.
Under the second phase of Hogan’s plan, limits on the number of people who can gather will be raised above the current limit of 10.
The second phase of his plan also allows for indoor gym and fitness classes and a reopening of child care centers and indoor religious services. Bars and restaurants would also be allowed to resume some table service.
A number of counties and other jurisdictions have already been preparing for the possibility of outdoor service including the closure of some streets.
The governor left in place, for now, the limits on gatherings and other restrictions though he said some trends could allow the state to enter phase two sometime next week.
An uptick in acute and intensive care hospitalizations has caused a pause. Hogan said officials wanted to wait to see if the numbers were a blip before deciding if phase two could begin.
“It’s why I said we want to keep watching this into next week,” said Hogan. “If two days becomes a solid week, if it’s going up then this is a concern and let’s slow things down. If it’s just a blip and everything continues to go down as it has consistently, then we’ll be ready to take steps to move forward.”
Hogan, however, said he was”a little bit shocked” by photos and videos over the Memorial Day weekend “of people on the boardwalk in Ocean City, with some of those crowds which didn’t appear to be too safe to me.”
Hogan acknowledged that government officials “can’t control everyone’s behavior.” He called for personal responsibility and urged people to be cautious about resuming a pre-pandemic life.
“Just because you can do something doesn’t mean that you should,” he said.
The governor’s announcement comes nearly two weeks after he proclaimed Maryland ready to move into phase one of his plan to reopen society and the economy.
In the earliest phase, Hogan reopened parks and outdoor activities such as golf. He allowed the resumption of some economic activity, including opening retail stores and personal services — barber shops and salons — at 50% capacity.
The governor also lifted a stay-at-home order in place of a “safer-at-home” advisory while still requiring social distancing measures and the use of face coverings while inside stores.
Hogan’s rollout of his reopening plan two weeks ago left a lot of flexibility for jurisdictions, mostly urban counties and Baltimore city, that have the highest concentration of infections.
Many of those jurisdictions initially decided to not enter phase one or reenter at a slower pace.
Those jurisdictions have started to ease some restrictions in the last week. Even Prince George’s County, which leads the state in cases, will enter a modified phase one on June 1.
Still, leaders of those jurisdictions have criticized Hogan’s decision to allow what they call “a patchwork” of reopening scenarios and rules with little state guidance.
Hogan said the decision to give counties flexibility was done at the request of local leaders and in recognition that some jurisdictions were less affected than others.
“The leaders begged for and requested that flexibility in decision-making ability for their individual counties, which we gave them and some of them seemed to say we shouldn’t have given them what they asked for,” said Hogan.