Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces the move to the second phase of reopening the economy.
Starting this weekend, Marylanders may be able to go back to most stores and office jobs, get tattoos and have their nails done, under the latest lifting of restrictions announced Wednesday by Gov. Larry Hogan.
As with prior steps toward reopening, cities and counties will have the authority to keep stricter measures in place. Officials in Carroll, Harford and Howard counties said they were inclined to follow Hogan’s plan, while leaders in Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties said they would announce plans Thursday. Baltimore City did not announce its plans.
Hogan said the further steps toward reopening are “critical to getting our economy back on track and getting Marylanders back to work.”
Hogan said he has seen promise in multiple metrics related to the virus. Hospitals have expanded capacity and the number of people hospitalized with the virus has gradually declined. As testing has expanded, the rate of positive cases also has dropped.
The decision allows many nonessential businesses to reopen, including all retail stores, manufacturers, wholesalers, warehouses, offices, banks, auto showrooms and travel agencies.
Businesses that reopen are encouraged to follow public health guidelines, including wearing face coverings during face-to-face interactions, checking the temperature of workers, rotating employee hours and changes to shifts to limit the number of workers at one time.
Businesses that offer personal services, including nail salons, massage therapists, tanning salons and tattoo parlors, will be able to open with limitations. They may operate by appointment only and at 50% capacity.
“We are excited to get our economy restarted, but I want to be clear, just because Marylanders can return to their offices doesn’t mean they should,” Hogan said. “Moving into Stage 2 does not mean that this crisis is behind us."
Much of Maryland’s state government operations also will resume operations Monday, though the Motor Vehicle Administration and other “customer-facing” agencies will gradually reopen on an appointment-only basis, Hogan said.
Hogan said he and his advisory team on the coronavirus and reopening will monitor data closely as the restrictions ease.
“The virus is still out there and until we have a vaccine, we can’t guarantee that a spike won’t be out there,” he said.
Speaking earlier in the day to the General Assembly’s COVID-19 work group, Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins’ Center for Health Security and an advisor on the virus to Hogan, said he generally approved of reopening measures, though he warned the virus is not gone. He said masks and distancing remain important.
"Just because something is open doesn’t mean it’s totally safe to go there,” he said
Inglesby said large gatherings to protest the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis posed risks for new infections that won’t be seen right away.
“I feel the state is moving in the right direction” Inglesby said. “But we still have people getting sick and dying of COVID-19. Like every state, we’re trying to find a balance with people getting back to their lives and jobs and stopping the terrible economic losses.”
One public health expert questioned whether Maryland really is prepared to move forward.
“I worry that opening up more fully, without having a significant capacity in hospitals and capabilities to do contact tracing and identification, and testing, leaves us without the tools to manage if we have a spike in cases," said Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Hopkins Center for Health Security.
Watson said states that have lifted restrictions have produced “mixed results," with some faring better than others and some precipitating new spikes in cases.
Watson also noted that while the state’s rate of positive tests had declined significantly, it still remained higher than the World Health Organization’s recommended 5% positivity rate. Maryland’s rate on Wednesday was 10.5%, as calculated by Johns Hopkins.
Hogan said Maryland’s positivity rate is 9% and noted that the state meets the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendation of allowing further reopenings after two weeks below 15%.
Maryland’s prohibition on gatherings of more than 10 people remains in place, though Hogan acknowledged that many people have ignored that, especially during the demonstrations against police brutality in recent days. He encouraged protesters to get tested.
“I believe people should be able to express their frustrations, but I am concerned that people were so close together," Hogan said.
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said he would align his county’s restrictions with the state’s new rules on Friday. Ball, a Democrat, warned residents to remain vigilant and said officials will closely watch the rate at which ventilators, intensive care beds and hospital beds are used in the coming weeks.
In Carroll County, Board of Commissioners President Stephen Wantz said officials there are “more than ready” for the second phase of reopening. Wantz, a Republican, acknowledged the decision is not his alone, and said the five commissioners would discuss the matter at their meeting Thursday.
Likewise, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said businesses will be able to reopen in his county as much as allowable under the governor’s order.
“It is good news for them; it has kind of been long overdue,” Glassman, a Republican, said of businesses deemed nonessential. “As other folks open, it is even more depressing that you have to stay closed.”
Baltimore County officials will take time before deciding the next steps.
“Baltimore County will be evaluating the announcement made today, consulting with experts and identifying potential next steps tomorrow,” said Sean Naron, a spokesman for County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., in a statement.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman also said he’d wait to make an announcement until Thursday night. He said public health officials have not yet had the chance to evaluate the impact of the recent reopenings of retail shops and outdoor dining.
“I do know that this is making our health officer nervous. It’s making me nervous,” said Pittman, a Demcorat.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s office did not offer a response Wednesday to Hogan’s announcement.
Even with the reopening steps, many facets of regular life remain off-limits to Marylanders, such as eating indoors at restaurants, working out at indoor gyms, seeing a movie in an indoor theater, shopping at a mall and playing miniature golf. Houses of worship can only offer services at 50% capacity, with face mask and social distancing requirements.
Some businesses were eager to reopen.
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Lorena Grewe, owner of Tattoo Guru in Overlea, said she’ll reopen next week. Tattoos will be given by appointment only and clients will have their temperatures checked and be screened for coronavirus symptoms.
Grewe said she was frustrated when elective surgeries were allowed to resume and tattoo shops were not.
“We want to be safe, but at the same time, you don’t want to go into bankruptcy,” she said. “We fall through the cracks with a lot of things ... because as tattoo artists, we are considered ‘dirty.’”
Grewe said she’s glad to get her shop’s tattoo artists back to work. As contractors, they’ve had difficulty getting unemployment benefits while the shop was closed.
“They had no help from the government at first,” she said. “When they finally opened unemployment up to our artists, I could finally breathe, because I felt responsible for them.”