PRINCE GEORGE'S COUNTY, Md. — Prince George's County plans to lift all capacity restrictions for businesses on Monday, May 17.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks announced Friday that the county will align with Gov. Larry Hogan and lift capacity and distancing restrictions for all indoor and outdoor venues starting at 5:01 p.m. on Monday. She said the decision is a result of a rapid decline in key COVID-19 metrics, as well as increasing vaccination rates in the county.
COVID-19 metrics have dropped substantially over the past week, Alsobrooks said in a press release. In just five days, the county's positivity rate dropped from 4% to 3%, when previously it would take about 10 days to see a one-point decrease in that metric. In addition, the average daily case rate per 100,000 residents dropped from 14.2 to 8.7 in just five days.
“The way we will continue to trend in the right direction is by getting more residents vaccinated," Alsobrooks said. "So I encourage every Prince Georgian who has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine to sign up and join the hundreds of thousands of Prince Georgians who are already 'proud to be protected' against COVID-19.”
Face masks will still be required for all indoor venues, while on public transportation and at crowded outdoor venues, including concert venues and ticketed sporting events.
The announcement comes after Hogan proclaimed that the state is lifting all capacity restrictions on outdoor and indoor entertainment; art, sports and conventions, as well as all remaining restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining, starting Saturday.
The governor said that the state’s indoor mask mandate will be lifted as soon as 70% of adults receive at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
“Here in Maryland, our plan is to get everything back to normal by Memorial Day,” the governor said. “We are making amazing progress toward that goal."
After months of experiencing challenges due to the pandemic, local businesses welcomed the developments on Friday. With capacity restrictions now lifted, the executive director of the Old Greenbelt Theatre said the updates brought more hope after a tough year.
"This feels much more like we can start to imagine what it’s going to be like for those of us already vaccinated," she said. "It feels great and it feels almost too good to be true. Are we here at this point? Is this where we’re at?”
Following a closure that lasted for several months, the non-profit theatre that first opened in 1938 in the Greenbelt Historic District reopened by offering streaming releases, curbside popcorn pickup every Friday, and organizing outdoor movies with the local recreation department.
Limited gatherings, with a maximum crowd of nine people, were also later offered. Despite the lifting of the restrictions, McGrath told WUSA9 it would still take time for the theatre to get back to operating where it was before the pandemic.
"Because people haven’t been in that kind of a space, we need to make sure that we have plenty of guidelines and the floor markers and signage," she said. "We are excited to be at this point where we can start to work toward reopening but it’s not going to start back where we were, which is at 368 people mingling and talking to whoever you want to.”
In the meantime, theatre staff will continue to help organize Friday night outdoor movies with the recreation department this summer. By fall, McGrath hoped to have the theatre back to its normal activity so it can offer showings of Oscar nominees, which often bring the Old Greenbelt its biggest crowds.
"We’re using these next few months to work toward that and the goal is to be fully open," she said on Friday. "We have to start with small groups and practicing what it’s like to have 30, 40, 50 people in the space again.”
Moving forward, she said the updated guidance helped staff envision the theatre returning back to its role of bringing people together in the community.
"We look forward to seeing all those familiar faces, to having events that get people together to think, to laugh, to cry," McGrath said. "All of that is going to be really remarkable.”
Not all Maryland counties intend to alter restrictions based on the governor's new guidelines. As has been their standard for the duration of the pandemic, Montgomery County leaders promptly responded that the county would not fall in line with the governor's guidance.
"As we have done throughout the pandemic, we will continue to prioritize the guidance from our professional public health team and vaccinate our residents as quickly as possible and emerge as a stronger, healthier and more sustainable community," a joint statement from County Executive Marc Elrich and the Montgomery County Council said.
The statement went on to say that Montgomery County would continue to pursue its phased reopening approach based on vaccination percentages. The county's three-phase reopening plan calls for changes once 60% of residents have at least one vaccine dose and again when 50% of Montgomery County residents are fully vaccinated.
Montgomery County's positivity rate is currently 1.57%, with an average case rate of four per 100,000 residents. The joint county statement said those rates were the fourth lowest in the nation for jurisdictions with more than 700,000 people.
It's worth noting that Elrich and Montgomery County have tended to fall in line with CDC guidance, and Thursday afternoon, the CDC made a major change to mask-wearing guidelines. Fully vaccinated are allowed to stop wearing masks outdoors in crowds and inside in most situations, the CDC said.
“Anyone who is fully vaccinated can participate in indoor and outdoor activities -– large or small — without wearing a mask or physically distancing,” Rochelle Walensky, director of the CDC, said. “If you are fully vaccinated, you can start doing the things that you had stopped doing because of the pandemic.”
Elrich has not yet responded to the new rules, though his Thursday morning statement said, "We currently follow guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on face-covering requirements and are consistently working with our public health experts to determine what changes may be appropriate as vaccinations continue to increase."