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Hogan to lift some coronavirus restrictions, but Baltimore mayor says local officials may move more slowly

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces the state could begin the first stage of its reopening process, if the rate of hospitalizations from the coronavirus and the number of patients in intensive care continue to level off into next week during a news conference on Wednesday, May 6, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. Hogan also said he is allowing elective surgery and some low-risk activities like golf, tennis, boating and fishing starting on Thursday. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces the state could begin the first stage of its reopening process, if the rate of hospitalizations from the coronavirus and the number of patients in intensive care continue to level off into next week during a news conference on Wednesday, May 6, 2020 in Annapolis, Md. Hogan also said he is allowing elective surgery and some low-risk activities like golf, tennis, boating and fishing starting on Thursday. (AP Photo/Brian Witte)(Brian Witte/AP)

Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to announce Wednesday the relaxing of some restrictions on business and gatherings as hospitalizations due to the coronavirus pandemic have reached a plateau, but Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said local officials don’t yet feel comfortable reopening.

As part of his three-stage plan to reopen the economy, Hogan last week began to loosen some restrictions, including permitting elective medical procedures and recreational activities such as boating and golfing.

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The next steps in the first stage of the governor’s reopening plan include reopening certain small businesses, curbside services, limited-attendance outdoor religious services, limited outdoor fitness classes and car washes. A spokesman for Hogan would not confirm Tuesday what activities will be relaxed next.

At a news conference Tuesday, Young said not all county executives “feel comfortable” yet with reopening.

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“We’re going to take the advice of our healthcare professionals to tell us when they feel it’s safe,” the mayor said.

The leaders of Maryland’s eight largest counties will make reopening decisions jointly, Young said, and make sure any “phased-in opening is coordinated with all of us.”

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, a Republican, said the governor would allow regional flexibility for county executives to determine what steps to take.

“The governor has said it will be a flexible, regional approach,” Ricci said.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said that “while I’m as eager to open businesses and allow people to connect with one another as anybody, I’m not going to do it if our health officer and health experts believe it’s going to create another wave of this virus and set us back.”

Pittman said that while the state’s eight largest jurisdictions are likely to coordinate their reopening, there is no official pact to do so.

“We wouldn’t want two counties with very different strategies next to each other because it’s so easy for the virus to spread across county borders,” said Pittman, a Democrat.

Sean Naron, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, said Olszewski is "awaiting the governor’s announcement before making any decisions.”

“The county is actively preparing for the gradual and safe lifting of restrictions,” said Naron, adding that officials will use data to make decisions. “We are in regular communication with officials from neighboring jurisdictions."

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican, said the county is keeping an eye on rates of infection, capacity of hospitals and new cases in making its determination to reopen.

Counties that are not prepared to reopen, Glassman said, could be more restrictive than the governor’s three-stage plan for reopening the state — but they cannot open more than what Hogan allows.

“Counties that are ready to go like Harford County, we can only reopen to the level that the governor announces,” said Glassman, who said last week he was eyeing May 15 as a target date to begin taking steps toward reopening some personal services and small businesses. “We can’t be more permissive than that … We can only be more restrictive.”

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In Carroll County, Board of Commissioners President Stephen Wantz said he is awaiting specifics from the governor.

“We’ve got to be cautiously optimistic and wait to see what the details are before we move forward," he said.

Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said she and seven other leaders of large Maryland jurisdictions have agreed to move more slowly than the state. Alsobrooks said she understands that some small jurisdictions, which are lesser hit by the virus, will be able to reopen more quickly.

Alsobrooks said she will listen to her health commission and other health experts when deciding which steps to take.

“The governor understands that Prince George’s County has been uniquely impacted by the coronavirus,” Alsobrooks said. “We understand that some smaller counties are in a different situation. The governor has to be the governor for the whole state.”

Hogan began taking small steps to reopen the state last week when he amended his stay-at-home order to allow for individual and small group sports, such as golfing and tennis, recreational fishing and hunting, recreational boating and horseback riding.

Maryland’s state-owned beaches reopened Thursday for walking and exercise. Hogan also announced that hospitals can resume nonemergency procedures, which had been barred in an attempt to keep inpatient populations low in case a surge of COVID-19 cases threatened to overwhelm them.

Some local officials have complained that the governor hasn’t given them enough notice of plans.

Young, a Democrat, said that during a conference call with Hogan, he and other county executives asked for a “heads up” for when he plans to announce reopening the state.

“A lot of times he has press conferences and we got it when you got it,” he told reporters. “We didn’t think that was fair for us. So we got all that squared away and we’re looking forward to our continued work with the governor.”

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Mary Grace Keller, Talia Richman, Olivia Sanchez, James Whitlow and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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