Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday afternoon announced that some businesses shuttered due to the coronavirus pandemic can reopen on Friday, but Montgomery County officials say they have not reached that point yet.
During a news conference, Hogan said the state’s stay-at-home order — which limited outside interaction to essential purposes — will be lifted at 5 p.m. Friday in favor of a “safer at home” approach with looser restrictions.
Retail stores may reopen with limitations on crowd sizes, manufacturing can resume, and barbers and hair salons can return to operation by appointment only, and at 50% capacity.
Religious facilities can hold services, Hogan said, although “outside services are strongly encouraged” so people can spread out.
Hogan said, however, that local leaders can decide when to begin easing restrictions, which is considered the first of three phases of the state’s recovery plan.
He said that officials in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — which, combined, have about 50% of Maryland’s cases — “have made it clear they are not ready.”
“As the state cautiously moves forward, we understand not all counties are in the same situation,” Hogan said.
On Twitter, after Hogan’s announcement, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich reiterated something he said earlier in the day: Montgomery County is not ready.
He wrote that “the science shows we are not ready to take that step. We are in a densely-populated environment with nearly 400 COVID-19 deaths.”
In a call with journalists on Wednesday afternoon before Hogan’s announcement, Elrich explained more about why the county is not ready to begin easing social distancing restrictions.
Elrich said not enough people have been tested and the trajectory of new cases continues to increase.
“There is no value in opening prematurely if it plunges us right back into this crisis again,” Elrich said.
He could not be reached for comment after Hogan’s press conference Wednesday.
Elrich first indicated during a news conference on Saturday that Montgomery County might not open on the same timeline as the rest of the state.
County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said during the Saturday press conference that he will consider several factors when deciding when the county is ready to reopen. They include an increase in testing capacity, a decrease in the hospitalization rate, a decrease in fatalities and a decrease in the test positivity rate.
As of Wednesday morning, Montgomery County had 7,283 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 386 people had died. The number of new cases has grown by 5% or less each day since May 2.
The state, however, uses data about patients’ hospitalization rates and the number of patients in the intensive care unit as metrics to determine when to begin easing social distancing.
Local data about those metrics is not consistently released.
Some of the other examples Hogan gave of places that can reopen in phase 1 were pet groomers, car washes and art galleries.
Earlier Wednesday, before Hogan spoke, Elrich emphasized that neighboring jurisdictions need to work together on reopening to avoid a resurgence of cases.
Washington, D.C., on Wednesday extended its stay-at-home order to June 8 and Virginia set a May 29 reopening for Northern Virginia.
While the state’s stay-at-home order will be lifted, Hogan said people will be reminded they are “safer at home.”
“While this is a positive step forward, it does not mean we are safe or this crisis is over,” Hogan said. “Low risk does not mean no risk. … The painful truth is this virus will continue to be with us and to be part of our daily lives … until a vaccine is widely available.”
Social distancing and wearing face coverings in public will continue to be encouraged, he said.
Staff writer Dan Schere contributed to this story.
Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org