Maryland Gov. Hogan orders face coverings in retail stores, transit systems

A man wears a face mask while shopping in the Riverdale Park Whole Foods. (Julia Nikhinson/The Diamondback)

Marylanders must wear face coverings in retail stores and while using public transportation in order to comply with a new executive order, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday at a press conference.

Several counties, including Prince George’s and Montgomery, had already implemented similar requirements, but the newly signed measure applies statewide. Face masks must be worn in places like grocery stores, pharmacies, convenience stores and at public transportation areas like the Metro.

The order also compels retail and foodservice establishments to require staff members who interact with the public to wear face coverings. The order will go into effect at 7:00 a.m. on Saturday to provide businesses enough time to prepare, Hogan said.

“The wearing of masks is also something that we may have to become more accustomed to in order to safely reopen our state,” Hogan said.

[Read more: PG County to require face masks in grocery stores, on buses]

At the conference, Hogan noted the progress the state had toward recovery in the face of the staggering toll of the coronavirus pandemic; Maryland recorded over 10,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases Wednesday morning, and 349 related deaths.

The beginning of this week saw the state’s deadliest 48 hours of the outbreak to date, Hogan said; 87 died between Monday and Tuesday in the state.

But recent days also offered an encouraging sign, Hogan said; hospitalization rates are showing “possible signs” of leveling off.

That positive indicator, combined with increased medical facility capacity, testing capabilities and supplies of protective equipment, meant the state was preparing to begin the slow, uncertain shift toward recovery.

The governor announced planning had begun on the “gradual rollout of our recovery phase,” but cautioned that any plan would be carried out in a “thoughtful and responsible way” so as not to risk re-escalating the outbreak.

[Read more: White House declares Prince George’s County a COVID-19 hotspot]

“Our numbers are still rising and we’re still heading up that curve. So we’re not quite there yet. But we are seeing positive signs of cautious optimism,” Hogan said.

More details about Maryland’s next steps will be “discussed” next week, he said, but the state’s recovery will be dictated by the ability to accommodate even more patients, as well as track down “every single positive case” of COVID-19 through contact tracing.

“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.

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