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Baltimore Mayor Scott to keep city’s tighter COVID restrictions, despite Gov. Hogan’s push to reopen further

Tighter coronavirus restrictions will remain in place in Baltimore in spite of an order issued by Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan calling for many pandemic restrictions to be lifted across the state by Friday evening.

Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott said in a statement Thursday that it was too soon to reopen Baltimore at the pace recommended by the Republican governor. Hogan’s order calls for lifting capacity limits at restaurants and opening up large indoor and outdoor venues to 50% capacity.

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Currently, statewide orders limit bars and restaurants to no more than 50% capacity, both indoors and outdoors.

“The numbers and public health indicators clearly do not warrant a reopening at the governor’s pace at this time,” Scott’s spokeswoman Stefanie Mavronis said. “The mayor remains confident in Baltimore’s authority to maintain the common sense, local public health mandates currently in place as we continue to navigate this pandemic.”

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Hogan’s order allowed stadiums and racetracks to open at 50% capacity, raising the possibility of fans at Baltimore Orioles games and the Preakness Stakes at Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore.

While the Orioles’ home opener is set for April 8 and the Maryland Jockey Club announced Thursday that the Preakness would be run May 15, the city didn’t address the status of those venues specifically Thursday. The Orioles have said they are working with the city, state and Major League Baseball on how they could reopen the stadium safely to fans.

Scott’s decision makes Baltimore an outlier among local governments in Central Maryland, which have announced they will loosen local restrictions in response to the governor’s order. Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard counties agreed to follow Hogan’s lead in lifting restrictions on bars and restaurants and letting large venues operate at higher capacity.

For much of the pandemic, Hogan allowed local jurisdictions to impose tougher restrictions if they helped “save lives or prevent exposure to COVID.” Most of the state’s largest jurisdictions did just that, with Baltimore enacting some of the most restrictive measures.

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But Hogan’s new order Tuesday included different language. The governor declared local orders based on past state emergency orders null and void as of 5 p.m. Friday, although he maintained that localities still could impose tougher restrictions using other methods.

The office of Maryland’s attorney general issued guidance to local leaders Thursday saying that while the executive order does eliminate local orders, counties will be able to take potential action through their local charter, code or a health commissioner.

In Baltimore, Scott’s new executive order, which is not yet public, will rely on authority from several different portions of city and state law, Mavronis said. Those include powers provided to the mayor under Maryland’s public safety code and the Baltimore City Emergency Operations Plan, as well as authority given to the city’s health commissioner by Baltimore’s health code and the Code of Maryland Regulations.

Restrictions in the new order will mirror those of the city’s current order, Mavronis said. Baltimore restricts indoor dining to 25% of capacity and outdoor dining to 50% of capacity. Religious institutions, stores, indoor recreation and gyms are restricted to 25% of capacity.

City officials plan to reevaluate the restrictions during the week of March 21, Mavronis said, in accordance with an informal schedule Scott has established to review coronavirus-related data every four weeks and consider adjustments. Scott last issued an order on the regulations Feb. 22, although he has amended it at least once.

The review date falls after the upcoming St. Patrick’s Day holiday, likely a concern for public health officials trying to limit gatherings and the spread of the virus.

“We’re cautiously optimistic” Mavronis said. “We’re seeing things trending in the right direction, but we want to make sure we stay the course and maintain responsible restrictions.”

Scott was not available Thursday night to discuss the legal ramifications of his decision. He has scheduled a news conference for Friday afternoon.

As of Thursday, the city’s seven-day testing positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that return positive results, was 2.1%. That’s lower than the state’s rate of 3.58%, which rose from 3.4% the day before. The city is currently averaging 15 new cases per day, a 15% drop from four weeks ago.

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