Maryland will reopen on Friday at 5 p.m., Gov. Larry Hogan said at a press conference Wednesday evening. But the process will be left up to the counties, he said, and some county officials said they might not be ready to go along with the plan.
Hogan also announced the stay-at-home order will end Friday, at the same time. It will be replaced with a “safer-at-home” public health advisory, he said.
That order, along with the business closures, was implemented to halt the spread of the coronavirus. Hogan said Wednesday that recent trends in key metrics — namely, a decrease in hospitalizations and plateau in intensive care treatment — over the past two weeks meant that Maryland could now “cautiously and safely begin stage one of the recovery plan.”
However, officials from several counties expressed uncertainty with Hogan’s reopening timeline.
Angela Alsobrooks, the county executive for Prince George’s County, said the county will hold a press conference tomorrow at 11 a.m. “to update the community on our County’s COVID-19 response and our path forward.” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said his county is “not ready to take that step” toward reopening.
Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have the highest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the state between them.
Hogan acknowledged the fact that some officials are still unsure about reopening their counties.
“We fully understand that not all counties are in the same situation,” Hogan said.
For any counties that do decide to reopen Friday, many — but not all — of their nonessential businesses will be able to reopen for the first time since Hogan ordered them closed in a late March executive order.
Retail stores will be able to reopen at the end of this week, but businesses will only be allowed to let half the maximum number of customers into their stores, Hogan added. Curbside pickup and delivery will be “strongly encourage[d],” he said.
Some personal services, including barbershops and hair salons, will be allowed to reopen, too. Customers will be required to make appointments, however, and the same limits on capacity will be in place. Hogan said car washes, pet groomers, art galleries and animal adoption shelters could all begin to reopen, alongside “some other activities.”
Physical distancing and the use of face coverings will continue to be required at these locations, Hogan said.
Marylanders will be able to return to churches and other houses of worship on Friday, although Hogan said outdoor services are “strongly encouraged.” Indoors, congregants will be limited to half of the maximum capacity.
If the first phase does not coincide with jumps in the hospitalization rate or ICU cases, it will be time to consider moving onto the second phase, Hogan said.
That stage could include opening bars and restaurants, according to the recovery road map released in April. But the road map also gives the state leeway to halt the reopening process or even roll it back if there are outbreaks that risk the recovery.
Hogan said that he, too, is anxious to open up the rest of the state’s businesses. But he added that Marylanders would dictate much of how well that process goes.
“If everyone goes crazy and does things that are unsafe, we’re going to balloon back up and slow down the process. If everybody responds responsibly we will be able to move forward quicker,” Hogan said.