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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announces limited reopening of economy

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced Thursday evening his framework for reopening the county’s economy amid the coronavirus pandemic, classifying which businesses could reopen based on the governor’s executive order.

Howard County’s announcement comes 24 hours after Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state would enter phase one of reopening, beginning at 5 p.m. Friday when the stay-at-home order is lifted.

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Ball, a Democrat, had not implemented a countywide stay-at home order and said he did not plan to implement one after 5 p.m. Friday when Hogan’s order expires. Residents are encouraged to abide by the Republican governor’s “Safer at Home” advisory that will not be enforced by the rule of law.

Howard County’s announcement does not explicitly open the county for business but does list what is allowed to open as of 5 p.m. Friday.

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The county’s framework follows the state’s guidelines in keeping restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people, and the closures of businesses deemed nonessential remain in place. Nonessential businesses include bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, roller and ice skating rinks, miniature golf establishments , tattoo parlors, tanning salons, social and fraternal clubs like the American Legion, VFW, Elks Clubs and more. The county also will not make changes in Hogan’s guidelines that all manufacturing may resume.

Based on Ball’s announcement, in-person religious gatherings in Howard County may resume with 10 people or less and are strongly encouraged to take place in outdoor settings.

Retail businesses may open but are restricted to curbside pickup or delivery, which is more strict than Hogan’s guidelines. These businesses include art galleries, bookstores, clothing and shoe stores, florists, furniture stores, jewelers, lawn and garden stores, pawn shops, sporting goods stores, and tobacco and vape shops.

Certain retail establishments — like pet groomers, animal adoptions and car washes — will be allowed to operate at 50% capacity.

According to the announcement, barbershops and hair salons may open by appointment only with only one customer allowed in a location at a time. Nail salons, esthetician services and massage parlors cannot reopen yet, based on Hogan’s announcement.

During a virtual town hall Wednesday night, Ball praised Hogan for giving discretion to counties and regions on reopening, while cautioning that the county itself was not ready to reopen.

“We do not have the building blocks in place that the governor has outlined in stage one for reopening,” Ball said Wednesday. “We are not relaxing restrictions to the extent that the governor announced.”

During the town hall, Ball also announced the six data markers the county would consider when deciding to reopen the economy: the number of confirmed cases, the number of new hospitalizations, the number of patients admitted at Howard County General Hospital’s ICU, the number of tests conducted, the amount of available personal protective equipment and available surge capacity at Howard General.

“At this point, we have made progress and are on track to continue increasing contact tracing and testing,” Ball said in a statement Thursday. “However, there are still concerns about our proximity to counties with much higher case rates, our ability to access testing reagents, and whether we will be able to sustain this progress.”

Thursday’s announcement also detailed some specific openings and continued closures in Howard County:

  • Howard County government buildings will remain closed at this time to members of the public.
  • Howard County outdoor archery and shooting ranges may open with appropriate physical distancing and mask requirements.
  • Howard County campgrounds will remain closed.
  • Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks boat rentals will remain closed, as will the Columbia Association’s boat rentals.
  • Howard County horse boarding and riding facilities may open with appropriate physical distancing and mask requirements.
  • Stores in The Mall in Columbia with exterior access may open for curbside pickup or delivery only.

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