Effective Friday at 5 p.m., Maryland will move into phase three of its COVID-19 recovery plan, allowing businesses, including music venues and movie theaters, to reopen at a limited capacity.
This is the third “and final” stage of recovery, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) said at a State House news conference Tuesday afternoon.
“I’m pleased to report that our early and aggressive mitigation efforts to fight COVID-19 have been extremely successful and that we have continued to see declining numbers in all of our key health metrics,” he said.
But local jurisdictions may still set and enforce greater restrictions, as needed.
Maryland has been in phase two of its recovery plan since early June. Officials chose to delay the move to phase three in late July following a mid-summer spike in COVID-19 cases.
Hogan touted the state’s positivity rate, which he said has decreased more than 80% since its peak of 26.91% in mid-April.
According to the Maryland Department of Health, the current positivity rate is 3.39%, which is a seven-day rolling average as a percentage of all tests.
Upon entering the third stage at 5 p.m. Friday, movie theaters and indoor arts venues will be allowed to open their doors to as many as 100 customers at a time. Outdoor venues may allow up to 250. Stores and houses of worship may now increase their capacity from 50% to 75%.
Mask wearing and social distancing mandates still apply to all persons over 5 years old when indoors, and when outdoors where it is not possible to maintain a distance of six feet or more from other people.
Kelly M. Schulz, the secretary of the Maryland Department of Commerce, said that the state has worked to support its small businesses, awarding over $175 million in grants and loans to keep doors open and employees paid.
According to Schulz, Maryland already has recovered 156,000 jobs.
“We have stayed strong during this pandemic, and we will remain vigilant,” she said. “Throughout the reopening process, we have worked closely with our partners in Maryland’s business community to make sure we help them get back to work in a way that keeps customers and employees safe.”
Leaders in the small business community lauded the announcement. Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Business Owners, called Hogan’s decision a “step in the right direction.”
“Small businesses have borne the brunt of this economic crisis,” he said in a statement.
“A lot of obstacles remain but we’re hoping this news means more small businesses can begin tackling those hardships.”
O’Halloran blamed Hogan’s decision to give county officials the power to determine the pace of reopening as the roadblock to full recovery.
“The governor’s prior executive order giving control to local officials continues to muddy the waters on what business can and cannot do.”
Although Hogan is ready to move forward with the state’s reopening plan, the decision ultimately falls to county leaders to determine whether or not it’s safe to ease restrictions.
At least two have jumped at the opportunity to breathe life back into their jurisdictions.
Shortly after Hogan’s announcement, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) announced their jurisdictions would move forward with phase three of the reopening plan as soon as possible.
“Harford County’s metrics remain low and we will continue to safely and quickly reopen to the extent permitted by Gov. Hogan effective at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 4, 2020,” Glassman said in a statement.
Hogan did warn Marylanders to not let their guard down as they go into the holiday weekend, stating that contact tracers have identified that family gatherings and house parties are the highest risk activities.
“I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into stage three does not mean that this crisis is behind us, and remind them that we must remain vigilant so that we can keep Maryland open for business,” Hogan said.
By Hannah Gaskill