ANNAPOLIS — Maryland is taking a major step toward a pre-pandemic normal with the announcement that all statewide pandemic restrictions will be lifted beginning in two weeks and the state of emergency ended.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced the end of the more than 15-month statewide COVID-19 state of emergency during an early afternoon news conference at the State House. A high number of vaccinations across the state coupled with continued decreases in infections and hospitalizations made the decision possible, he said.
“With all of this amazing progress and thanks in large part to the hard work, sacrifices and the vigilance of the people of Maryland, we have finally reached the light at the end of that long tunnel,” said Hogan.
The announcement represents a downgrading of the pandemic for Hogan and state agencies. At one point, Hogan seemed to get emotional about the announcement,.
“It’s great to be able to move it into, now it’s an important operation rather than the thing that consumes all of our time and effort,” said Hogan, who credited the hard work of state agencies and local governments. “It is an incredible day. There were days when I wasn’t sure we’d ever get here, which is why you sensed a little emotion. Happy to be at this point.”
Hogan issued an executive order that will lift 18 previous executive orders, effective at 12:01 a.m. July 1. The orders cover everything from limiting access to child care centers, testing and quarantine for out-of-state travelers, telehealth services, delivery of alcohol as well as one that exempted Santa Claus from travel and test restrictions.
The July 1 date will allow for a new state law to take effect that will continue to allow bars, restaurants and other liquor license holders to continue to deliver under a law passed by the General Assembly earlier this year.
Hogan had announced the state of emergency on March 5 as he reported the first three COVID-19 cases in the state. Over the next 15 months he renewed that state of emergency 18 times, including on June 12.
Since then, Maryland has reported more than 461,000 confirmed cases as well as 9,472 coronavirus-related deaths.
“We’ve been through so much over the past 15 months but just look at how far we’ve come together to reach this hopeful point,” said Hogan.
Hogan and Deputy Health Secretary Dr. Jinlene Chan said the state plans to use infrastructure built up to help deliver vaccines to assist in booster shots, if they become necessary, as well as flu vaccinations. Hogan said the state is expecting a worse than normal flu season this coming fall.
The lifting of the state of emergency also includes eliminating the authorization to impose pandemic-related health orders, including those that require mask use in public schools.
“It’s not mission accomplished,” said Hogan. “The battle’s not over. We’re transitioning from a state of emergency to an ongoing operation. I can tell you that our hospital, our health care, our health department, everyone’s going to try to wind this down over the next several months. Our efforts continue, but it is a very hopeful point. Businesses will still be able to set their own policies, Hogan said.
Another 14 orders, including one that provides a renewal grace period for holders of expired driver’s and other licenses, will expire on Aug. 15.
The governor said the lifting of the orders will not affect the state’s access to federal funds related to the pandemic.
And while the statewide restrictions will be gone, Hogan said, some local governments and school systems may have the ability to continue to impose restrictions, including continuing mask use in classrooms.
Hogan’s orders also include an extension on the prohibition on evictions in the state through Aug. 15.
The Tuesday announcement comes as the state continues to see consistent reductions in new cases and deaths as the weather warms and vaccinations increase.
“While the end of the state of emergency is an important step in our recovery from COVID-19 it does not mean that this virus or the variants no longer pose any threat,” said Hogan. “If you have been vaccinated, you are safe but those who have not gotten vaccinated will continue to be at risk. At this point, there is simply no excuse for not getting vaccinated.”
On Tuesday, the state reported 67 new cases, dropping the state seven-day rolling average of new cases to 93 and the 14-day average to 102 cases per day.
Hospitalizations, which once approached 2,000 are now below 200, and deaths have fallen off significantly from this winter. Chan, the state deputy health secretary, said most hospitalizations are now coming from patients who have not been vaccinated.
“We’re looking very closely at that,” said Chan. “We know that when we were looking at some of the numbers even in May, the vast majority of the people who were getting admitted to hospitals were unvaccinated — in the range of 80% or so.”