ROCKVILLE, Md. — Montgomery County will begin loosening restrictions at 6 a.m. on Monday, June 1, County Executive Marc Elrich announced on Thursday.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has already moved much of the state into the first phase of reopening on May 15, but Montgomery County opted out due to a high concentration of infections in the region.
Retail curbside can begin on Monday's reopening, as well as restaurants and bars beginning patio seating. Curbside pickup and delivery are still available for restaurants, and Elrich said that they are "actively working" to determine plans on potentially closing streets for additional seating.
Churches and places of worship must still follow Maryland's Phase 1 plan, with no more than 10 people allowed at one space. Camping in the county must also abide by state's social distancing rules with no more than 10 people in a group.
Personal grooming is limited to hair salons by appointment only, with nails salons not yet ready to open. According to Dr. Travis Gayles, the county is still looking at "continued improvements before opening up more opportunities."
"We have seen significant improvements in the number of folks seeing medical care for COVID-19 related illnesses," Gayles continued.
Elrich said a number of hospitals remain at near-capacity for COVID19 patients and said gave credit to Gov. Hogan and local officials for helping on "bending the curve."
Prince George's County, which has the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland, and Montgomery County account for nearly half of the state's cases.
During a May 27 media briefing, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich spoke alongside County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles about the county's timeline of reopening and their response before announcing a specific date.
Both Gayles and Elrich said the county could open "in the next week or two" following the current trend in key reopening data, but did not yet give a specific date for reopening. They were waiting on more guidance from Gov. Hogan's office, who was expecting to give an additional press conference later that day.
The county has seen a decline in the last 11 of 14 days in the hospitalization rate and also decreases in the total number of fatalities, Gayles said. A possible metric that is preventing reopening is the acute hospital bed rate, which has stayed slightly above the targeted 70%.
Despite not dipping below that needed target percentage, the county is working on adding an additional 200 hospital beds over the next couple of weeks. That would allow for facilities to have more beds used for other patient needs and free up beds, helping the county get below the required percentage.
Elrich also stated that Montgomery County is actively working with Gov. Larry Hogan's orders and was grateful the county could place its own restrictions beyond the state's.
"We can be more strict than the governor but we can't be more lenient, which I am happy about," Elrich said.
Five of seven benchmarks the county used to measure when it can begin reopening amid the coronavirus pandemic remained unmet as of May 26. Two of the benchmarks -- hospitalization rates and percentage of ventilators in use -- had seen slight improvements.
"I know this is very difficult for all of us," Elrich said during a May 20 briefing on why the county decided to remain closed. "Our businesses are eager to reopen and our residents would love to be able to resume their usual activities, and we want to get there as quickly as possible while adhering to the essential public health guidelines."
Elrich made it clear that the county was not ready to reopen with the rest of Maryland after Hogan announced the start of the phase-in approach on May 15.
Instead, Montgomery County would work with their own benchmarks and health officials to determine when it was safe to reopen, citing the need for a decline in new confirmed cases and hospitalization rates.
Last week, Montgomery County Public Schools laid out additional guidelines on what students and faculty should expect for the remainder of the semester.
Superintendent Dr. Jack R. Smith, as well as staff and board members, reviewed and discussed Phase III of the county's "Continuity of Learning Plan," which was extended until June 15.
Phase I and Phase II of that plan has already been in place for the school, laying out initial check-in times for teachers and students and what the online learning platform looks like.
Phase III of the plan includes more clarification on how students will retrieve any possessions from school, as well as more guidance on how to handle art and music programs.