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Md. counties continue to ease pandemic restrictions

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks during a press conference April 22, 2020 in Laurel. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks during a press conference April 22, 2020, in Laurel. (The Daily Record / Bryan P. Sears)

Several of Maryland’s largest counties Thursday announced a variety of steps to ease pandemic restrictions as the state continues its slow crawl toward normalcy.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday she will lift a stay-at-home order starting June 1 as she eases restrictions put in place to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Prince George’s and other counties have quickly moved to allow outdoor dining following an announcement a day early by Gov. Larry Hogan. Alsobrooks’ county has been the hardest hit by the virus, with more than 14,600 cases and 427 deaths.

Alsobrooks said she is incrementally reopening while understanding that many in her county remain concerned about the virus.

“We’re behind much of the state because we recognize that Prince George’s County’s concerns are unique to Prince George’s County,” said Alsobrooks. “We’re not taking any chances with the lives of our residents.”

As part of the move into the first phase of reopening, Alsobrooks said, the county will lift restrictions on the opening of retail businesses and manufacturers as well as restaurants and child care facilities.

Under her plan announced Thursday, retail businesses will be allowed to open for curbside pickup only. Manufacturing can also resume with strict social distancing, face mask use and disinfection procedures in place.

Restaurants will also be allowed to open for outdoor seating, but Alsobrooks said the county will impose a limit of 50 customers at any one time regardless of the size of the outdoor area used for customers.

Barbers and salons will also be allowed to open with limits of one customer per 200 square feet and no indoor waiting areas.

Child care facilities can also begin accepting children from residents who are returning to work.

Similarly, Montgomery County announced it will ease restrictions on car washes, child care facilities, outdoor dining and curbside pickup for retail beginning Monday June 1 at 6 a.m.

“This is an important first step,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “But it is a first step, and restrictions are still in place. I know we are all eager to resume our activities, but based on careful discussions with our County Health Officer Dr. (Travis) Gayles, we have identified certain restrictions that can be lifted. I urge you to follow the guidelines so that we can keep moving forward and not have spikes in the number of cases. This first phase can be successful if all of us do our part and follow the guidelines.”

Outdoor youth day and sports camps will also be allowed under Elrich’s announcement, subject to state health department guidelines.

Montgomery County has the second-highest number of cases in the state.

Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. Thursday announced that county will align with the state on phase one of the reopening plan, including allowing restaurants already permitted to seat diners outside to open at 5 p.m. The county is also allowing other restaurants to apply for outdoor seating permits Friday at 9 a.m. Olszewski said the county will conditionally approve all applications until further notice.

The county, which has the third-highest number of cases in Maryland, will also align with the state guidelines allowing 50% occupancy in retail stores and in churches starting at 5 p.m. Friday.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball Thursday said his jurisdiction would allow outdoor dining.

“Outdoor seating is a meaningful first step, and we’re hopeful that if our data trends continue in the right direction we can resume more activities. Our team is working with our Health Department and local businesses to adjust and provide guidance on how to accommodate those without outdoor seating currently. We hope to have some creative solutions in the coming days.”

Howard County’s outdoor dining provisions are similar to Hogan’s and limit six to a table with six feet between tables. Social distancing, disinfection protocols and use of face covering by restaurant employees are required.

Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young muddied the waters Thursday by announcing that a stay-at-home order that bans all but essential excursions would stay in place at the same time he announced that restaurants with outdoor dining permits can open on Friday when Hogan’s order takes effect.

Young called the decision to dine out “personal.”

The tensions that have been built up by the economic lockdown designed to halt the spread of the virus were evident at Elrich’s news conference.

He was heckled frequently and sometimes shouted down by people yelling “dictator” and “fascist” while others held signs with messages, including “Free us please.”

“I want to open up as much as everyone else does,” Elrich said, addressing some of the hecklers. “I do not understand why people think anybody wants to lock down. There is nothing in locking down that makes anybody happy. I don’t get to do the things that I want to do.”

Elrich ended the news conference abruptly, walking away as some in the crowd yelled “recall.”

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