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Maryland Daily Record: Hogan announces indoor dining can resume Friday

Gov. Larry Hogan Wednesday announced a new wave of reopenings, with indoor dining and outdoor amusements allowed to resume some operations on Friday, and gyms, malls, casinos and arcades allowed to open at the end of next week.

Maryland is easing COVID-19 pandemic restrictions even as more than a dozen other states have reported increases in hospitalizations. In some cases, the increases represent the largest numbers since the start of the pandemic.

Maryland, however, is bucking those national trends. The changes announced by Hogan effectively move the state into the balance of phase two this week with additional openings meant for phase three coming a week later.

“This virus is still out there, and this battle is still not over,” said Hogan, who urged continued vigilance.

Starting Friday at 5 p.m., indoor dining will be allowed to resume with restaurants restricted to 50% capacity and tables distanced at least 6 feet apart with no more than six persons per table unless they all live within the same household. No buffets and no self-service dining are allowed.

Schools will also be allowed to schedule graduation ceremonies. Amusement parks, mini-golf and go carts will also be allowed. Pools, which were already allowed to open at 25% capacity, can now increase capacity to 50%.

A week later, the state will allow gyms to open at 50% capacity. Casinos, malls and arcades will also be allowed to reopen starting at 5 p.m. June 19.

Hogan also lifted all state limits of 10 people or less at gatherings effective immediately with recommended social distancing, masks, capacity limits at individual businesses and venues still in place, according to a spokeswoman for the governor. Limits imposed by local governments, however, could still apply.

The governor also expressed concern about recent protests in Baltimore and around Maryland and encouraged protesters to be tested for the virus. The state will open a new testing center at the Baltimore Convention Center.

One week ago, Hogan announced the state would partially enter the second phase of his plan. As of Friday, more non-essential businesses have been allowed to open, including nail and tanning salons and massage and tattoo parlors, which may operate at 50% capacity and by appointment.

Some state offices, including the Motor Vehicle Administration, were also reopened to the public.

The governor has faced continued pressure to ease restrictions on indoor activities, such as dining in restaurants and bars, attendance at church services, visits to gyms as well as to increase the number of people legally allowed to gather. Currently, the state limit is 10 people or fewer.

Currently, restaurants are allowed some limited outdoor seating. Some restaurant operators say the limits are still too restrictive or not helpful as they have no outdoor areas in which to set up seating.

Some owners say they would like to reopen to diners but hope the governor will not impose both a limit on capacity as well as requiring tables to be 6 feet apart. Instead, they would prefer a minimum distance between tables saying that, coupled with the size of their respective venues, would impose caps on how many people could come inside at one time.

Hogan, however, said everyone should make their own decisions about whether to patronize businesses as they open. The governor, who is over 60 and has battled lymphoma, said he would not feel comfortable dining indoors at this time.

The news was met with a mix of praise and concerns.

Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, called the announcements “a step in the right direction” even if reopening comes with a tangle of red tape for owners to navigate.

“Maryland small business owners continue looking towards getting back to normal as quickly and safely as possible,” said O’Halloran. “A lot of obstacles remain, but we’re hoping this news means more small businesses can begin tackling those hardships.”

Similarly, the announcement was praised by the state’s tax collector.

“I commend Governor Hogan’s announcement that more local businesses across our state, including restaurants, outdoor amusement locations and fitness centers, will now be permitted to reopen in a limited and responsible manner over the next two weeks,” said Comptroller Peter Franchot. “The governor’s decision strikes the appropriate balance between rebuilding Maryland’s economy and exercising all of the best practices that are necessary to safeguard public health.”

Even with the restrictions lifted, not all counties would necessarily follow the state. Hogan’s overall plan allows for jurisdictions to more slowly phase-in the governor’s changes gradually.

“I want to emphasize that we will only move to this next phase when the data allows it,” said Marc Elrich, Montgomery County executive. “When it does happen, following the restrictions still in place is essential. Like you, I am eager to resume as many normal activities as possible, but that cannot be the motivation for moving to the next phase – protecting the public health is what guides us.”

Montgomery County, which has the second-highest number of COVID-19 cases in the state, has not yet entered phase two. Elrich said that could happen next week if trends in his jurisdiction continue to move in the right direction.

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said his county will continue to move with the state as it reopens on Friday.

“Harford County will continue reopening safely to the extent permitted by Gov. Hogan and will follow the additional steps allowed in Stage Two on the effective dates outlined in today’s announcement,” said Glassman. “I know that Harford County businesses are anxious to get started rebuilding their business. We will continue to interpret guidelines with as much flexibility as possible.”

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said his county will also follow the governor’s plan with small differences that are less about policy “and more on implementation,” with some changes taking a day or two longer as county government adjusts to the new plans.

But Ball said he would not personally be comfortable dining inside a restaurant at the present time and has not done so since the county began allowing outdoor dining.

Sean Naron, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., expressed disappointment that county leaders learned of Hogan’s plans only as he announced them to the public.

“Yet again, we learned today’s news at the same time as the rest of the public,” said Naron. “We’re currently evaluating the new announcements made today and will identify our next steps after consulting with our public health team.”

As of Wednesday, 59,465 state residents have tested positive for the virus since the first cases were reported in early March, and 2,719 have died.

Key indicators used to track the virus in the state have moved in Maryland’s favor for nearly a month. When he announced his recovery plan, Hogan said that stay-at-home orders, social distancing and closing businesses, while wreaking havoc on the state economy, had flattened the spread of the disease and prevented hospitals from being overwhelmed.

Hospitalizations, a key statistic watched by Hogan and his advisers, remain under 1,000. That figure has dropped daily for two weeks. The number of acute care and intensive care patients has also showed sustained declines.

https://thedailyrecord.com/2020/06/10/watch-live-video-of-gov-hogans-news-conference/


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