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Maryland Gov. Hogan says coronavirus recovery plan will involve reopening businesses based on risk level

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan provided more detail Thursday on the state’s economic recovery plan and what business owners can expect as they transition back to work once the coronavirus outbreak eases.

Hogan said in a live interview with Politico that he hopes to reopen the economy in phases, classifying businesses as high, medium and low risk, and making decisions based on factors specific to each space. He said the degree of physical distance in a business, coupled with how much touch it involves for patrons and staff, could contribute to the risk level determinations.

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The details provide further insight into what will likely be a gradual approach to transitioning to a new normal after Hogan lifts Maryland’s stay-at-home order. He said even when the state starts to see drops in the number of new cases, he will not implement a “flip of a switch” approach to reopening the state.

“We’ll get some quality of life things back, in a safe way, with masking and social distancing,” Hogan said. “Every one of us wants to get things open as quickly as we can, but we’re only going to do that in a safe and smart way. It’ll be a while before you see people close together.”

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Hogan also stressed that the state’s recovery roadmap hinges on four pillars: Ramping up Maryland’s testing capacity, instituting contact tracing, increasing the supply of personal protective gear and readying hospitals for a surge in patients that could overload the system.

He said the state has made gains in all four of these areas, highlighting the acquisition of 500,000 test kits from his and his wife Yumi Hogan’s contacts in South Korea this week and the reopening of a former hospital in Laurel to treat more patients and add more beds to the state’s stock.

We're answering your questions on the coronavirus. You asked what gives Gov. Larry Hogan the authority to shut down private businesses?

The state also plans to hire more contact tracers and has secured more protective gear, he added.

“We’ve taken some of the earliest and most aggressive actions to flatten and lengthen that curve,” Hogan said.

Maryland’s guidelines closely mimic those outlined in a public health report published by the National Governors Association, of which Hogan is the chair. The report discourages states from opening prematurely — or without the tools in place to rapidly identify and stop the spread of the virus.

“This scenario would repeat the negative economic consequences of pandemic response and reduce public confidence, further deepening a recession and protracting economic recovery,” according to the report. “States will ... need to develop plans for a careful, staged reopening that protects the public’s health while laying a strong foundation for long-term economic recovery.”

To date, over 15,700 Marylanders have contracted the contagious virus, and at least 680 people have died. The state reported nearly 1,000 new cases Thursday morning and 49 fatalities. Another 68 deaths were listed as probably caused by COVID-19 but not confirmed by a laboratory test.

Hogan said he will wait to make major decisions about the re-opening the economy until he sees 14 consecutive days of decreased cases. To prevent a resurgence of the virus in the fall and winter, Hogan said he will continue to consult to his advisory team, comprised of representatives from Johns Hopkins, the University of Maryland Medical System and the state’s business sector.

Maryland has yet to have more than two consecutive days in which the number of new cases was lower than the day before.

“It does concern the experts that this virus has the potential to come back, which is why we’re doing it carefully and gradually,” Hogan said. “We’re working it from all directions, but let’s get them back to work in a way that will keep them safe.”

The Republican governor said he will unveil more details on the state’s recovery plan Friday.

Hogan said he would base decisions about November’s U.S. Presidential election based on how the state’s newly scheduled, mostly mail-in June primary fares. For now, he said Maryland’s election board has encouraged mail-in voting, but would set up in-person polling sites in every county to ensure all Marylanders could cast ballots.

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He also said his dual roles as Maryland governor and chair of the governors association uniquely qualified him to work closely with the White House, whether it’s thanking President Donald Trump for his efforts or pushing the administration to allocate more funds for local governments.

“I say exactly what we think, and sometimes it doesn’t make the president happy. But I don’t go out of my way to poke the bear,” Hogan told Politico. “We’re going to help the people that are suffering, but we also need revenue to do that. We don’t have a printing press like the federal government does.”

Meanwhile, Hogan also is pressing the federal government to continue making telework options available to its workers.

“While of course any essential employee should continue to report to work, we know that a continued federal telework policy will help save lives by allowing more of our region’s 360,000 federal employees to work from home,” Hogan wrote in a letter that also was signed by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser.

The three leaders addressed their letter to Michael Rigas, acting director of the federal Office of Personnel Management.

“We encourage the Administration to help ensure the safety of the federal workforce and our residents as we work together to fight this pandemic,” they wrote. “Failure to do so could lead to a rise in cases and delay our ability to re-open the region.”

Even when businesses gradually reopen, the governor said he hopes as many people as possible will continue to work remotely.

A self-described sports fan, Hogan also said that while he would love to see athletics return to the region, fans should not expect to watch their teams play in person for a while. He also said golf aficionados may return to the courses and driving ranges in the near future, though without the clubhouses and other social amenities that some clubs offer.

“I don’t see us packing stadiums full of people. I would love to see it, but I don’t think that’s going to happen,” he said.

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One positive of the coronavirus? The Orioles have not yet lost a game this season, Hogan said.

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Baltimore Sun reporter Nathan Ruiz contributed to this article.

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