By Andrew Palm and Jordan Smith
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Gov. Larry Hogan has unveiled a plan to reopen Maryland’s economy that involves a gradual three-phase process to get businesses, services and residents back to normal life.
The “Maryland Strong: Road to Economic Recovery” plan was outlined on Friday by Hogan who said things should begin sometime in early May. The governor was adamant that this must be a slow-moving process that makes certain the number of COVID-19 cases are declining before even thinking about lifting any restrictions. In fact, the governor stressed that until a vaccine for the novel coronavirus is devised, Marylanders should expect to live their lives differently.
“If we try to rush this, and if we don’t do it in a thoughtful and responsible way, it could cause a rebound of the virus,” Hogan said at the Statehouse in Annapolis at a news conference, “which could deepen the economic crisis, prolong the fiscal problems, and slow our economic recovery.”
Stage one, which could be initiated early next month, would begin with the lifting of the stay-at-home order. In addition, some small businesses would be allowed to reopen and the suspension of some recreational activities – such as golfing, boating, and fishing – would be lifted. Elective outpatient surgeries will resume, and there will be an increase in flexibility for non-surge areas, he said.
If there is no spike in deaths or significant outbreaks in communities, this would allow the state to move into stage two, Hogan said.
Stage two would involve the opening of more businesses, and indoor religious gatherings would resume with limited capacity. This stage also would allow restaurants and bars to reopen; however, they would have to operate under significant limitations.
The second stage also would allow for transit operations to return to normal schedules, and the social gathering numbers would be less restrictive.
Stage three would be a monumental move towards normalcy, with high-capacity bars and restaurants being allowed to resume full operations, and large social gatherings would be re-instituted.
Hogan cautioned that “there is no realistic timeline yet” for reaching stage three.
Hogan did not mention anything about the reopening of schools in any of the stages. To continue to assess the safe use of educational and child-care facilities throughout the state, the governor said he will consult with the state superintendent of schools and school superintendents.
For the purposes of planning, Hogan said he will focus on the rate of hospitalizations and the number of patients being admitted to ICU. He added that as there will be increased testing in Maryland, there will be an increase in the total number of COVID-19 cases as a result.
According to guidelines from the White House, states can begin reopening their economies after a decline of COVID-19 cases has been seen for a span of two weeks. By the federal standard instituted last week and under the guidance given in the studies and the reopening plans, Maryland is not able to lift its restrictions yet.
“All Marylanders should continue to avoid crowds and gatherings, and they should continue to practice physical distancing and to take precautions to protect themselves, their families, and their fellow Marylanders,” Hogan said. “Together, we are going to defeat this virus, and together, the State of Maryland will return stronger and better than ever.”