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Md. counties taking different tacks on easing virus curbs

“We will continue watching our data very closely over the next two weeks, and if aligning with the governor’s decision is detrimental to the health and welfare of our residents, we will not hesitate to reimpose restrictions." says Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

“We will continue watching our data very closely over the next two weeks, and if aligning with the governor’s decision is detrimental to the health and welfare of our residents, we will not hesitate to reimpose restrictions,” says Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Leaders of two of the state’s largest jurisdictions say they will not follow the state into fully reopening most businesses, but several others say they’re ready to ease restrictions along lines ordered by Gov. Larry Hogan.

The new guidelines lifting capacity limits on most businesses contained in an executive order from Hogan go into effect Friday at 5 p.m. Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said her jurisdiction will ease some restrictions but will not fully open as the governor has recommended.  Similarly, Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott said it is too soon to reopen at a pace set by the governor.

“The governor has different considerations than I do,” Alsobrooks told reporters during a Thursday news conference. “He has to look at the entire state and make decisions for the entire state. I have the pleasure of making decisions for Prince George’s County and we had the leeway to make a decision for my residents and that’s what we’re doing.”

Baltimore, Harford and Howard counties have all announced that they will follow the state on Friday.

Alsobrooks announced that indoor and outdoor dining in the county can begin to operate at 50% capacity with social distancing and mask requirements.  Theaters, gyms, banquet and reception halls, retailers and indoor and outdoor church serves can also expand to 50% capacity. Personal services businesses such as salons can also open at 50% capacity but by appointment only.

Prince George’s County, with nearly 910,000 residents, has been the hardest hit in terms of infections and virus-related deaths. In the last month the number of new cases, hospitalizations and other key measurements have all dropped dramatically.

Based on the reality that Prince George’s County was the hardest-hit jurisdiction in the region, “we have to really  be cautious,” said Alsobrooks.

“We know that the improvements that we are seeing can be reversed in no time,” she said.

Baltimore city also intends to not open at Hogan’s pace, though it is unclear if restrictions will be eased as was done in Prince George’s County.

“The numbers and public health indicators clearly do not warrant a reopening at the governor’s pace at this time,” said Stefanie Mavronis, a spokesman for Mayor Brandon Scott. “The mayor remains confident in Baltimore’s authority to maintain the common sense, local public health mandates currently in place as we continue to navigate this pandemic.”

Scott plans to hold a news conference Friday at 2 p.m.

Hogan issued an executive order Tuesday that lifts capacity limits on churches, restaurants, bars and most other businesses. He also increased the limit on capacity for large outdoor and indoor spaces to 50%. The new order, which goes into effect Friday at 5 p.m., still requires mask use inside buildings and social distancing. Bars and restaurants would be required to continue to space tables 6 feet apart, and customers would have to sit rather than stand.

“My advice would be that they should follow the state guidance,” said Hogan of the counties on Tuesday.

But contained in Hogan’s order was language that lifted local delegation authority that allowed leaders of the state’s 24 major political subdivisions to enact some measures more strict than those in place statewide. Removal of that authority effectively meant that counties who used that authority granted nearly a year ago would need to reissue orders based on local laws and regulations.

Many counties are following the state.

“During the last month, we have seen our key metrics trending in the right direction, and significantly decreasing from the peak of our holiday surge,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement. “We will continue watching our data very closely over the next two weeks, and if aligning with the governor’s decision is detrimental to the health and welfare of our residents, we will not hesitate to reimpose restrictions.

Anne Arundel County will lift most restrictions, especially those related to businesses and indoor dining and bars. The county, however, will continue to restrict indoor gatherings in private settings to 10 people and outdoor gatherings will remain capped at 25 people.

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