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Baltimore to begin allowing curbside pickup at retail stores; Howard County to allow 50% capacity at retailers, barbers

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young announced Tuesday that city retail businesses apply for curbside pickup locations beginning Wednesday morning. Other counties have allowed retail businesses to reopen with restrictions, such as this music store in Bel Air.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young announced Tuesday that city retail businesses apply for curbside pickup locations beginning Wednesday morning. Other counties have allowed retail businesses to reopen with restrictions, such as this music store in Bel Air. (Music Land)

Two more Baltimore-area jurisdictions took steps Tuesday toward loosening coronavirus-related restrictions, albeit at different speeds.

In moves representative of Maryland’s patchwork approach to reopening, Baltimore’s Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the city will begin to allow stores to open up Wednesday for curbside pickup, although barbershops, churches and gyms will remain closed.

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Meanwhile, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced that by the end of the week, he will allow retailers, barbers and hair salons to operate at 50% capacity, and religious institutions will be permitted to hold outdoor services with up to 250 people.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the statewide stay-at-home order two weeks ago, and allowed manufacturing, retail, haircuts and worship services to resume with some limitations. The Republican governor gave local jurisdictions flexibility in how they proceeded, and counties have so far taken different approaches based on how hard they’ve been hit by the virus.

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Shops in Carroll and Harford counties have been permitted to operate at half-capacity for more than 10 days. Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties started out by allowing only curbside pickup for retailers, though Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. changed course last week and said stores can begin letting up to 10 people inside at a time.

Young indicated Tuesday that the county-by-county approach to lifting restrictions was hurting the city. He’s previously expressed frustration that the jurisdictions aren’t moving forward at the same speed.

“The surrounding counties are doing curbside for their retail businesses and it’s putting our businesses at a disadvantage,” Young said.

He added that he believes this initial phase of reopening “can be done carefully and safely.”

Starting at 9 a.m. Wednesday, businesses can apply to the city to get a temporary Retail Pick Up/Drop Off zone designation. These zones, intended to ease parking congestion, will be awarded on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Young also said outside exercise classes of fewer than 10 people can resume, though people must practice social distancing and wear face coverings.

Young emphasized that the city remains under a stay-at-home order.

Baltimore is nearing 5,000 confirmed cases and more than 220 people have died of COVID-19. Young said the state has not provided enough testing resources for him to consider lifting all restrictions.

The city’s health commissioner, Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, said promising signs are emerging: The positivity rate for COVID-19 testing dropped from 21% to 17.5% over the past week. The city is aiming for a rate below 10%, but needs more test kits to get there.

“We are beginning to move in the right direction locally,” Dzirasa said.

In Howard County, Ball too said his decisions were guided by declines in some of the county’s coronavirus indicators. The county’s ICU utilization rate has fallen or stayed the same for seven of the last 14 days, and as of Saturday, the daily case count has stayed the same or decreased for the first time since April 1.

As of Tuesday, there were 1,732 confirmed coronavirus cases in Howard, with 49 deaths reported, according to the state health department.

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“We know many are understandably anxious to reopen,” Ball said Tuesday. “Our goal is to reopen in a safe and effective way, to provide safeguards to flatten the curve.”

Despite that, a Reopen Howard County rally was still scheduled to go on Tuesday evening.

Young has faced pressure from local businesses to loosen restrictions more quickly, too. While he believes that’s not yet possible, his administration is taking steps to prepare for an eventual reopening.

He announced a program Tuesday to help city restaurants prepare to host patrons again, after weeks of just pickup and delivery.

The program will shorten the process that businesses must go through to get approved for outdoor seating, shifting from an average of three months to less than a week. The city also will waive or rebate fees associated with applying for outdoor seating applications and licenses.

“We know our small business community does not have the ability to wait three months to be able to get back close to the revenue that they were capturing prior to COVID-19,” said City Councilman Eric Costello, co-chair of the city’s Small Business Task Force.

The city also is considering shutting down some small streets to traffic so the space could instead be for restaurants to operate expanded outdoor seating. Some restaurants in Little Italy have suggested such a solution, though Young told them last week the city was not ready.

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