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Maryland sees hints of progress in battling the coronavirus. When will it be able to reopen restriction-free?

Governor Hogan on laying out a plan to get Maryland back to normal and President Trump decision that Governors should make decisions for their states.

Gov. Larry Hogan said during a media briefing Wednesday that Maryland is starting to show signs that social distancing is working as a tool to fight the spread of the coronavirus.

The Republican governor said hospitalization rates are beginning to stabilize because of the "early and aggressive actions, and because of the extraordinary sacrifice of Marylanders.” And because of that, he said, plans for rolling back executive orders would begin to be revealed next week.

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"We’re now in a position to move from containment and mitigation to plan the gradual rollout of our recovery phase,” Hogan said.

Here is what we know that it will take for Maryland to reopen, restriction-free:

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Wait, I’m confused? So is the state reopening next week?

No.

Hogan said he and members of his coronavirus task force have been discussing for weeks what reopening businesses and institutions would look like because it will be difficult. He’s expecting to provide a look at how it may work, but cautioned Marylanders, “Don’t expect a final plan.”

So if it’s not opening next week ... when?

Nobody is quite sure. Hogan said Wednesday, “I think everybody would like to know when we’re going to get back to a normal life."

Then the governor said that if the state is reopened too early, Maryland could experience a spike like New York has had.

“We are starting to slow that growth slightly," Hogan said. "We have not yet reached the peak. Now would be the worst time to take our foot off the accelerator.”

What is it going to take to actually reopen the state?

While there are still many things unknown, during Monday’s briefing, the governor echoed what other public health officials on his coronavirus task force have said. The state needs to focus on four things: greatly expanding the state’s testing capacity, with a goal of 10,000 tests per day; increasing the hospitals’ surge capacity; raising the state’s supply of personal protective equipment; and building a contact tracing operation.

“There are some very real reasons for hope and optimism right now, and there is clearly a light at the end of this tunnel, but exactly how and when we will get to that light is going to be up to each and every one of us,” Hogan said.

The governor’s task force also previously said there needs to be a proven decline in COVID-19 cases — something that is weeks, if not months, away. The group also said there needs to be testing for antibodies among those who were previously infected and may now enjoy some immunity.

What are public health officials saying?

Dr. Thomas Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins University, has echoed what Hogan said.

Inglesby, who is a member of the governor’s coronavirus task force, said securing PPE for doctors and nurses, as well as hospitals, is imperative in case there is a second wave of the virus.

Former U.S. Food and Drug Administration head Scott Gottlieb recently joined Hogan’s task force. The fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, also has been consulting with the White House on how best to safely reopen the economy. He said that states should begin reopening only after they are able to “safely diagnose, treat, and isolate COVID-19 cases and their contacts.”

Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, said Tuesday that the state is embracing a plan for having widespread testing, tracing and quarantining in place before easing restrictions on businesses and gatherings.

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Are masks actually going to help make this happen?

Hogan said Wednesday outside the State House that everyone needs to become more accustomed to wearing masks because it’s an “important step” in helping safely reopen Maryland.

If the coronavirus goes away tomorrow, can we go back to normal?

Not exactly.

Isolation, contact tracing and widespread testing will be crucial elements to reopening businesses and schools and allowing people to leave home eventually.

The state needs to hire even more people to act as contact tracers to help identify anyone who may have been exposed to the coronavirus.

The state now has about 200 to 250 so-called contact tracers on the job at local health departments, but that force will need to be multiplied, Phillips said.

It’s a difficult job because the workers must find everyone an infected person has been in contact with and seek to isolate them until they’re either confirmed infected or not.

“We’re going to be doing contact tracing. We’re going to be doing that until we have a vaccine," she said. "This is not a short-term project. This is going to be sustained work.”

Why is contact tracing so important to help reopen the states?

If people with COVID-19 and those potentially infected are quarantined, infections will slow and restrictions could be eased for everyone else, said Crystal Watson, a senior associate at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. She co-authored a new report that outlines the necessity of tracing for reopening society.

Each person with COVID-19 infects an average of two or three people, according to the report.

The report for the first time estimated what will be needed nationwide: a workforce of 100,000 tracers at a one-year cost of about $3.6 billion.

“Before we make consequential decisions about reducing social distancing measures, we need to have them in place," Watson said.

What are other states doing?

The governors of Connecticut, Delaware, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island said Monday that they were forming a “regional advisory council” to guide the gradual reopening of those states’ economies — after the worst of the pandemic has passed.

“We cannot act on our own,” New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy tweeted. “We must be smart & tactical in how our region comes out of this, or else we’ll be right back to square one.”

The governors indicated they are not close to reopening their states’ economies, but the work group will advise them on what steps to take.

The governors of California, Oregon and Washington organized a similar pact, also announced Monday, to evaluate how to reopen their economies.

Is Maryland also working with other states?

Maryland has been coordinating its response with neighbors Washington, D.C., and Virginia, though they have no formal pact.

Some congressional leaders, however, are urging Hogan to join in a formal pact.

“As chairman of the National Governors Association, Governor Hogan shares ideas with all of the governors, not just one particular region," Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said Tuesday in a statement. “He also talks regularly with the White House and administration officials.”

"Maryland’s situation is unique to Maryland, and the governor’s decisions will continue to be guided by the facts on the ground in our state.”

Who ultimately decides when the state reopens?

The governor.

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Contrary to what President Donald Trump has said, local governors have the “total” authority to order states to lift restrictions.

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While Hogan said he would “love” to have the president’s cooperation, it was the governors who enacted restrictions such as closing schools and businesses and ordering people to stay home, and it will be governors who decide when to reverse those restrictions.

None of the governors have said when they believe restrictions can be lifted.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood, Scott Dance, Luke Broadwater, Meredith Cohn, Nathan Ruiz, Emily Opilo, and Liz Bowie contributed to this article.

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