ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Governor Larry Hogan will lift Maryland's stay-at-home order at 5 p.m. on Friday. Montgomery and Prince George's counties will not reopen with the rest of the state due to higher coronavirus case counts. Frederick, Howard and Charles counties will also take a slower approach to reopening.
The governor announced the change Wednesday afternoon at a press conference from the state capitol in Annapolis. He said Maryland had achieved the 14-day trend of plateauing and declining numbers, with hospitalizations, ICU patients and rate of new deaths all trending downward over the last two weeks.
Hogan said the following businesses can begin to reopen at 50 percent capacity, with continued social distancing enforced and the wearing of masks strongly encouraged:
- Clothing and shoe stores
- Barbershops/ hair salons (by appointment only)
- Pet groomers
- Animal shelters
- Religious institutions (outdoor services encouraged, but indoor allowed at 50% capacity)
- Art galleries
- Car washes
- Furniture stores
- Lawn and garden stores
- Sporting goods stores
- Tobacco and vape shops
Hogan encouraged all businesses that reopen to take the Maryland Strong: Back to Business pledge to let customers know they are following recommended guidelines to keep Marylanders safe.
He emphasized that outdoor activities are still generally safer than indoors, and asked that all Marylanders continue to stay home when possible, telework if allowed, practice social distancing, remain vigilant on handwashing, and wear masks in indoor public areas, retail stores and on public transportation.
"I want to be very clear that while lifting the stay-at-home order is a positive step forward, it does not mean that we are safe, or that this crisis is over," Hogan said. "Low risk does not mean no risk."
The governor said that until a vaccine is widely available, coronavirus will "remain a threat" and asked Marylanders to exercise responsibility so that "we can get back to work and our daily lives."
With four of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions accounting for 70 percent of the state's total confirmed cases, Hogan said he wanted to allow those counties who feel ready to reopen to begin doing so. He acknowledged that Prince George's and Montgomery counties -- the two counties with the highest case counts -- have made it clear they are not ready to reopen.
"I can assure you that until our health officer thinks that it's safe to open, we will not be opening some of these things," Elrich said. "I'm like everybody else. Physical distancing and sheltering in place is hard. After a while, you just want to go out ... But we're not ready for that yet."
Public Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said he needed to see both the number of cases and hospitalizations on a sustained decline before he would feel comfortable giving the go-ahead on reopening.
"We have so far tested 2.3 percent of residents, above Maryland’s baseline goal of 2 percent, but below the county's goal," Gayles said. "Testing capacity is continuing to expand, and plans are in place to test as many residents as possible, particularly frontline and essential employees."
Elrich also emphasized the need for neighboring counties and D.C. to coordinate their plans to lift restrictions.
"We are in a densely populated metropolitan area, and we share borders with other jurisdictions," Elrich said. "It is important that whatever any one of us does, we all do. Until we are all ready to open, it is not prudent for any one of us to open."
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball also said his region will take a phased-in approach to reopening, with some businesses allowed to resume operations Friday.
"At this point, we have made progress and are on track to continue increasing contact tracing and testing," Ball said. "However, there are still concerns about our proximity to counties with much higher case rates, our ability to access testing reagents, and whether we will be able to sustain this progress. The governor’s announcement came as a bit of surprise. We did not expect him to go as far as he did, especially in areas like religious gatherings."
Between Prince George's County, who has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland, and Montgomery County, the two counties account for nearly half of the state's cases.
Frederick County will only partially reopen on Friday, phasing in things like curbside retail pick up, reopening car washes and pet groomers to start. The County will also allow small businesses with less than 10,000 square feet to reopen with 50% capacity allowed with someone at the door controlling capacity.
Frederick County will re-evaluate where it is with a projected full Phase 1 reopening date of May 29.
"We still have miles to go on this road, but we are all in it together," Hogan said. "If we stay strong, Maryland strong, we will get through this together."
See Hogan's full order below.