Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that he’s lifting the state’s stay-at-home order beginning Friday at 5 p.m. and moving into phase one of the coronavirus recovery plan. During the news conference, he laid out what the first phase of reopening will look like in the state.
What exactly is reopening under phase one?
The first phase in Hogan’s plan would allow activities deemed “low risk” to resume, such as the opening small shops and businesses, curbside pickup at stores, limited attendance outdoor religious gatherings, and “some personal services.”
Retail stores will be able to reopen with 50% capacity, Hogan said, but curbside pickup and delivery is still strongly encouraged.
The governor also said all manufacturing operations can resume, as long as there are multiple shifts and social distancing is practiced. Hair salons and barber shops can also open up at 50% capacity and by appointment only.
Religious services are also able to resume with reduced capacity, and Hogan said outdoor services are encouraged.
What are our current restrictions?
While some restrictions are being lifted, many are still in place.
Residents are urged to stay at home except for essential travel to go to an essential job or to get food or supplies and those who can still work from home should continue to do so, Hogan said.
Gatherings of more than 10 people are still prohibited, restaurants are not allowed to offer sit-down service and non-essential businesses are not allowed to be open.
Residents are allowed to get exercise, and Hogan last week allowed boating, fishing, golfing, horseback riding, tennis and a few other recreational activities. Cities and counties have the discretion of opening playgrounds, and beaches can be open, though local officials can limit beach activities. Ocean City saw light crowds for a chilly first weekend of having the beach and boardwalk open last weekend.
Cloth masks or face coverings are required inside restaurants and retail businesses and on public transportation.
Why did things change?
Hogan laid out specific reasons about why he was choosing to implement phase one of the state’s recovery.
Hogan said the “Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery" could begin because hospitalizations and ICU stays related to the coronavirus have been flat for nearly two weeks.
Hogan has said number of positive cases is currently not a key factor, because the number of cases undoubtedly will continue to rise as testing expands.
The plan calls for additional prerequisites to easing restrictions, including: having sufficient personal protective equipment such as masks and gloves for medical workers, having sufficient hospital capacity to treat patients, expanding testing and establishing a contact-tracing operation. Hogan has said Maryland has made “considerable progress” in all four areas.
When Hogan announced his roadmap plan on April 24, he said he was hopeful the state could start easing restrictions in early May.
“This document is a roadmap, not a calendar,” Hogan wrote in his introduction to the Roadmap to Recovery plan. “The Administration does not intend to set dates or telegraph benchmarks for moving through this journey. Unfortunately, the virus dictates the speed with which the State can move.”
Will procedures be uniform across the state?
There’s flexibility for some parts of the state to be more restrictive than others
Leaders in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have shown hesitancy toward relaxing restrictions, given the high rate of infections in their area.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young also indicated this week that the city was not ready to begin reopening.
“I can assure you that until our health officer thinks that it is safe to open, we will not open some of these things,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat, said in a video posted Saturday.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, also a Democrat, said Friday her county will take a “strategic and detailed approach” to reopening.
“While the rest of the state may continue to open, we must take measured and smart approaches to reopening non-essential businesses and resuming gatherings with families and friends and neighbors,” she said.
What happens in phases two and three? When will we see those?
If the first phase goes well, and there aren’t spikes in the coronavirus, Maryland could move to the next phase.
The second phase of allowing “medium-risk” activities would enable significantly more activities and is predicted to last much longer than the first phase.
Examples of medium-risk activities include: reopening businesses with social distancing measures and masking in place, allowing more than 10 people to gather, holding indoor fitness classes, reopening child care centers, resuming regular public transportation schedules, holding indoor religious services and allowing restaurants and bars to reopen with restrictions.
“This stage includes numerous steps over many weeks towards recovery,” Hogan’s plan states.
The plan’s third and final phase of allowing “high risk” activities has “no realistic timeline yet.”
This phase would involve large social gatherings, full service at bars and restaurants, the reopening of entertainment venues and large religious gatherings. There also would be fewer restrictions on visiting nursing home residents and hospital patients.
Will we ever get back to normal?
It’s not likely that daily life will return to exactly how it was before the coronavirus pandemic any time soon.
“Even as we begin our recovery, we won’t be able to just flip a switch," Hogan said late last month. Life is not going to just immediately go back to normal. In fact, it is important to recognize that until a vaccine is developed, the way we go about our daily lives and the way we work is going to be significantly different of awhile longer.”
The governor’s plan indicates that “for the foreseeable future” Marylanders should continue to practice social distancing, wear masks and work from home as much as possible.
What about schools?
Decisions on opening public school buildings are made by the state superintendent and are not expressly included in Hogan’s plan.
Superintendent Karen Salmon ordered schools to continue online and distance learning for the rest of this school year, and no decision has been made yet whether students and teachers will return to their buildings in the fall.
The Maryland State Department of Education has put out its own guide for reopening, “Maryland Together: Maryland’s Recovery Plan for Education.”
State and local school officials have discussed options for when students do return, such as alternating weeks of in-person and at-home instruction to minimize the number of students in a building at a time. Face masks and temperature checks might be part of the school day.
Salmon has said she envisions traditional schooling on regular schedules being part of the third phase of Hogan’s plan.
Baltimore Sun reporter McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.