Maryland Gov. Eases Restrictions; Counties Near DC to Set Their Own Pace

Several county leaders said Wednesday they are not ready to reopen or that they will meet in the coming days to discuss reopening

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Beginning Friday evening, Maryland residents will no longer be required to stay at home under phase one of the state's reopening plan — but some counties surrounding D.C. are setting their own pace.

Gov. Larry Hogan said the state is gradually moving into stage one of the state's recovery plan at 5 p.m. Friday, after 14 days of plateauing of key hospital metrics. He also said the decision came after consultation with a state team of public health experts and business leaders.

Retail stores may reopen at up to 50% capacity, with curbside pickup and delivery strongly encouraged and all public health precautions in place. Examples of businesses that may reopen include clothing and shoe stores, pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, car washes, art galleries and bookstores.

All manufacturing may resume operations, with multiple shifts encouraged.

Churches and houses of worship may start holding religious services, at up to 50% capacity, with outdoor services strongly encouraged.

Maryland is lifting its stay-at-home order and loosening restrictions Friday evening, but some counties surrounding D.C. are setting their own pace. News4's Chris Gordon reports.

Some personal services, including barbershops and hair salons, may open with up to 50% capacity and by appointment only.

Maryland residents are still urged to work from home if they can. A requirement that people wear masks in public areas indoors will remain in effect. Limits prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people will remain in place, with the exception of religious gatherings.

"While lifting the stay at home order and gradually moving into stage one of our recovery is a positive step forward, it does not mean we are safe or that this crisis is over," Hogan said.

Hogan made clear that all jurisdictions can set their own pace for moving on to stage one of reopening, including Prince George's and Montgomery counties, which have the highest case counts in the state.

Prince George's County Executive Angela Alsobrooks has said the county is not yet ready to reopen.

"We're gonna just have to make decisions that may be different than decisions that may be made throughout the rest of the state," Alsobrooks said before Hogan's news conference.

The DC area still likely faces weeks of shutdown ahead. News4's Jackie Bensen spoke to local leaders about their coordinated approach to reopening.

"We're very concerned about making any decisions that may be premature, that may cause additional illness," Alsobrooks said, citing that intensive care units in the county have been running at 80% capacity on average.

Montgomery County will remain on stay at home status, County Executive Mark Elrich said.

“Our situation is improving. We are scaling up our testing capabilities and will be able to test more people in more settings. We are also increasing contact tracing. These efforts will help make our community safer. But we do not meet the measures set out by federal and state guidelines," Elrich said.

As of Wednesday, 386 people in Montgomery County have died due to COVID-19 — the highest amount of deaths in any county in the state. Prince George's County has the highest number of cases at 10,072 and 370 of its residents have died.

Several county leaders issued statements Wednesday night saying either that they are not ready to reopen or that they will soon meet to discuss the potential for reopening.

Baltimore City and Baltimore County have the highest number of cases after Prince George's and Montgomery counties. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young said in a statement they will determine next steps in the next 24 hours.

"For the Baltimore region to safely move into all of Phase One, we need more access to personal protective equipment, as well as increased testing capacity and more robust contact tracing. We’ve seen some progress in each of these areas, but we have to do even more," the statement read.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said he would look over the reopening plan with the health department in the coming days and decide which parts of the plan the county will implement.

Howard County said it is not ready to reopen.

"Howard County does not meet many of the criteria that the Governor outlined in his four building blocks to reopen,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement.

Calvert County officials are meeting Thursday to vote on a resolution to extend the local state of emergency declaration.

The state's plan provides a flexible and community-based approach that enables individual jurisdictions to make decisions on the timing of stage one reopenings. Local governments can keep restrictions in place, but they can only act within the guidelines announced by the governor.

On Tuesday, Maryland reported 70 new deaths from Monday to Tuesday. That's one of the state's biggest daily death tolls.

Maryland also added 688 new cases of the virus. About 60 percent of those were in Montgomery and Prince George's counties.

Nearby Virginia is preparing to reopen much of the state, but the capital region won't follow as soon. Gov. Ralph Northam allowed localities in Northern Virginia to extend the shutdown through at least May 28. D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser is expected to extend the city's stay-at-home order this week.

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