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Five takeaways from Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to reopen Maryland

Governor Larry Hogan talked about what it would take to lift the stay-at-home order and move to a road to recovery.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Friday announced his three-phase plan to eventually reopen the state amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Hogan called the plan a “well-thought-out, gradual, safe and effective path forward,” supported by four pillars he has spoken about often in recent weeks: increases in testing, personal protective equipment, contact tracing and hospital surge capacity.

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Here are five key takeaways from a plan that balances reopening the state’s economy while taking precautions against the continued spread of the virus.

Hogan: Aggressive actions have left the state in a good position.

Since the state reported its first case of COVID-19 — the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — in early March, Hogan has issued about 40 executive orders, including mandates that Marylanders stay home to promote social distancing.

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That measure and others have positioned Maryland to flatten its curve, Hogan said, noting the state’s current standing is far better than that projected without social distancing measures. But Hogan added that the plan to reopen can’t begin right away because Maryland is still seeing increases in the major tracking metrics. In the past week, the state has reported a 44% increase in cases, a 25% increase in ICU patients and a 70% increase in deaths.

The reopening start date is unknown.

Although Hogan has been adamant the state would not begin its reopening process until its daily number of new cases decreases for 14 straight days, he said Friday he would be flexible in his interpretation of that guideline from President Donald Trump. Hogan said a one-day spike would not prompt an automatic reset of the count, but that if the overall trend of new cases is down for a two-week span, he would be willing to begin the reopening process.

Still, the state has yet to have more than two days in a row in which that day’s number of new cases was lower than the day before. Until Maryland approaches that 14-day benchmark, Hogan will hold off on initiating the plan.

It won’t all happen at once.

Even when Hogan is ready to start his reopening plan, all of the state’s businesses won’t open immediately.

The plan, titled “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery,” has three phases. The first features lifting the stay-at-home order while also allowing certain small businesses to open and perform curbside pickup; outdoor gym classes, religious gatherings of limited attendance, and some recreational activities; certain elective medical procedures; and car washes, though all elements are subject to change.

The first phase also includes measures that would prompt the stoppage of the plan. Those are an unexpected increase in hospitalizations, a lack of following of social distancing guidelines and significant outbreaks of community transmission of the virus, with a five-day period of increased cases in particular leading to caution.

The second phase of the plan involves raising the minimum number of people allowed to gather; opening of childcare centers, indoor gyms and religious activities; and the return of routine transit schedules. Restaurants and bars will also be able to reopen with restrictions.

The final phase allows for larger social gatherings, including at dining establishments, entertainment venues and religious services. There will also be lessened restrictions on visits to nursing homes and hospitals.

There’s no timeline for how long the state will stay in each phase, with Hogan noting that the second is likely to last longer than the first.

Shifting from ‘response’ to ‘recovery.’

Hogan’s announcement Friday included the introduction of the “Maryland Strong Recovery Team.”

As Maryland plans how to efficiently yet safely reopen its businesses, a collection of business leaders have joined what was the state’s coronavirus response team to shift from a medically focused advisory role to one that includes focuses on labor and community.

Additions to the team include Under Armour founder Kevin Plank, Marriott International CEO Arne Sorenson and Augie Chiasera, the president of M&T Bank’s Baltimore and Chesapeake Region, as well as Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.

Things won’t go back to normal immediately.

As the plan’s phases go into effect, current recommended practices will remain part of daily happenings.

Social distancing and the wearing of masks will continue to be encouraged. Hogan’s plan includes a warning to older populations — those most at risk of the virus’s deadliest effects — to avoid large crowds. Friday, Hogan said a vaccine, which likely remains months to a year away, will possibly be what’s required for a full return to normalcy.

“Even as we begin our recovery, we won’t be able to just flip a switch," Hogan said. “Unfortunately 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 for a while longer.”

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