Maryland will fully implement the first stage of its coronavirus recovery plan later this week, Hogan said Wednesday, allowing outdoor dining at restaurants while further lessening some restrictions on outdoor activity.
Separately, the chairman of a legislative committee criticized the state's top procurement officer at an online hearing over two contracts relating to response to the coronavirus. One was a $12.5 million contract for personal protective gear and ventilators that drew the attention of federal prosecutors. The other related to a lack of needed materials to use 500,000 test kits Maryland acquired from a South Korean company.
At a news conference, Hogan noted the state first entered the first stage of its recovery plan nearly two weeks ago after encouraging trends, which he says have continued enough to fully implement the first stage at 5 p.m. on Friday.
“Now, after another 14 days of continued encouraging trends Maryland is ready to take the additional steps to complete stage one of our gradual safe and effective recovery plan,” Hogan said.
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That will enable restaurants to allow outdoor dining, as well as social groups like American Legion and the Elks Club.
Some youth sports activities can begin with limited, low-contact outdoor practices. Youth day camps can resume for outdoor activities with capacity limitations of no more than 10 in a group, with no out-of-state campers or overnight camp. Outdoor pools can open with strict safety guidelines, including 25%-capacity restrictions and strict physical distancing and sanitation measures, the governor said.
Hogan pointed to progress on testing as well as contact tracing. He said the state reached its goal of being able to conduct 10,000 tests a day on Wednesday. Maryland has completed 300,344 tests so far, the Republican governor said.
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As for positive health trends, Hogan said total hospitalizations due to the virus are down 22% since the state's peak on April 30, and they are down 17% in the last 14 days. The number of patients in intensive care has been on a steady plateau for 28 days since April 29.
Hogan said county officials can still decide to what extent they are able to reopen. While some counties have moved in tandem with the governor's plan, others have implemented limited reopenings or kept stay-at-home orders in place.
Hogan also said Maryland could begin to start implementing its second stage next week, if trends stay encouraging next week.
At a separate legislative hearing earlier in the day, Sen. Paul Pinsky criticized the head of the Maryland Department of General Services over two pandemic-related deals that have drawn big headlines.
One of them involved a $12.5 million contract for personal protective equipment from Blue Flame Medical, a company founded by two politically connected Republicans with very little background in procuring the equipment.
“I’m a little confused about looking at their resumes and their past work experience that allowed you to approve a $12.5 million contract in 48 hours," Pinsky asked Ellington Churchill, the head of the state's procurement department.
Churchill underscored the urgency as the state was seeking the scarce equipment in March.
“As a part of procurement, we don’t look at who the principal is in terms of the company," Churchill said. “What we are most concerned about especially during this time period was the ability to execute."
Pinsky, a Prince George's County Democrat who chairs the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, also criticized the Hogan administration for announcing the acquiring of 500,000 test kits from a South Korean company — only to lack many of the components needed to actually use them to test Maryland residents.
Other senators questioned Churchill on the procurement, and he repeatedly deferred to the health department.
Pinsky said he believed Churchill was “abdicating responsibility."
“By in large, in all the contracts I’ve looked at, they’ve been responsible, respectful, appropriately vetted," Pinsky said. “The two areas that have come up today with these committees and personally are two areas that bend in the area of politics and unfortunately they were mistakes, disasters and I think you were complicit in it.”
Hogan, asked about the questioning at the hearing during his news conference, noted that he said at the time of the test kit announcement about a month ago that they were only part of what was needed.
“There were multiple components, as I announced, and we've been acquiring them all over the past month since I announced," Hogan said.
For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up within weeks. For some, especially older adults and those with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness and be fatal.
Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak