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Young issues cautionary note as Baltimore moves into second phase of reopening

Baltimore Mayor Bernard "Jack" Young speaks during a news conference announcing a new collaboration in an effort to reduce homelessness in Baltimore City, Tuesday, July 2, 2019, in Baltimore. Through the initiative, eligible Medicaid participants will receive permanent housing and services they need to prevent a return to homelessness. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, shown at a 2019 event, announced Friday that the city was moving to phase two of its pandemic reopening beginning at 5 p.m. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young warned that he is prepared to tighten restrictions related to COVID-19 should trends show a pickup in infections.

Young issued that caution even as he announced the city will join the rest of the state’s 23 other jurisdictions in phase two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to reopen the state economy. The city is the last to follow Hogan’s plan after the governor announced an easing of restrictions that allowed jurisdictions around the state to reopen restaurants and additional businesses the last two weeks.

“We’ll continue to monitor the data closely and if things take a turn for the worse, I will not hesitate to reinstate restrictions,” said Young.

Included in the metrics the city would watch are number of cases — which can spike as testing becomes more widely available — and deaths.

As of Friday, the state continued to see downward trends in the number of cases per day as well as hospitalizations and intensive care, which are at some of their lowest points since March. The average number of cases has declined for two consecutive weeks.

Young Friday announced that the city would finally enter phase two more than a week after Hogan announced he would ease restrictions last week that would allow jurisdictions to permit indoor seating in restaurants and other activities and added casinos and large entertainment venues and malls — considered higher risk activities — to reopen on Friday.

But Young and city officials resisted following the state, saying their interpretation of key metrics differed from Hogan’s. The decision, without further explanation of the difference in interpretation, resulted in Young taking the brunt of criticism from business owners, including restaurant owners who were watching others around the state reopen.

City officials have now changed how they interpret those metrics.

“We recognize our phase two was slightly different from the state,” said City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa. “So, for ease of compliance and general alignment, it made more sense to change our metrics to align with those of the state.”

Young, speaking at a Friday morning news conference, gave businesses such as restaurants roughly six hours to prepare for customers.

The announcement allows limited reopening of businesses, including restaurants and bars, churches, casinos, entertainment venues and malls as well as barbershops, hair and nail salons and massage and tattoo parlors. Pools and summer camps as well as child care facilities will also be able to open, although with limits.

The state and the city are easing restrictions even as some states are seeing spikes in cases and hospitalizations, stoking fears of a second wave. Some states and municipalities are now requiring the use of facial coverings and social distancing while inside — something Young said he would mandate despite a segment of the population nationwide who find the requirement objectionable and a violation of personal liberties.

“Again, I want to remind residents that all of these things are low risk but not without risk and COVID-19 is still present in Baltimore City,” Young said during a Friday news conference.

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