All retailers, barbershops and hair salons in Howard County, Maryland, can reopen at 50% occupancy starting later this week as part of a plan to gradually lift coronavirus restrictions, County Executive Calvin Ball announced Tuesday.
An executive order from Ball laying out the county’s reopening plans also said religious institutions will be permitted to hold outdoor services for up to 250 people. Houses of worship in the county will still be limited to 10 people for services held inside.
Retailers should continue offering curbside pickup, and barbershops and hair salons must operate by appointment only, according to the order. Staff and clients must wear masks.
“Our goal is to reopen in a safe and effective way that provides enough safeguards to hopefully continue flattening the curve,” Ball said during a news briefing. “We also want to open as quickly as possible while keeping necessary safeguards in place so that businesses and employees can begin the recovery process.”
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Larry Twele, the CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, said the reopening will allow almost 1,000 small businesses that employ about 18,000 workers to get back to work.
Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan lifted the statewide coronavirus stay-at-home order, removing capacity restrictions as part of the state’s reopening process. Though the state started reopening, Hogan said county leaders could delay the reopening process in their local jurisdictions.
At the time, Ball said Howard County had not seen a decrease in cases or hospitalizations and needed to increase the number of residents being tested for coronavirus. Howard County was averaging 33 cases per day in late April, Ball said.
The county released a reopening framework, called HoCo RISE, which listed smaller numbers of visits to intensive care units and an increase in its contact tracing as necessary steps to start lifting restrictions.
Two weeks after Hogan’s announcement, Ball said that the ICU rate has dropped and reached its lowest number since April 1, and the county now is averaging 27 cases per day.
County health officer Dr. Maura Rossman said that with the help of residents staying home and practicing social distancing, Howard County has enough evidence to support a gradual reopening.
“I believe we are back in the phases of containment, where the health department can mostly trace back every case,” Rossman said. The team of contact tracers hired by the health department has increased from two to 35, according to the county.
Even as the county begins its reopening, Rossman said she still recommends residents to follow proper social distancing, wear face coverings and wash their hands.
“We must not become complacent as we enter into new phases of reopen,” Ball said. “As we begin to lift more restrictions, we will continue to keep a close eye on our data and ease or tighten restrictions as needed. COVID-19 is not going away in the near future.”
Charles Co. prepares for Friday reopening
Charles County officials provided additional information regarding its reopening process, which begins Friday.
The county will allow retail stores, barbershops and hair salons to reopen with 50% occupancy. In contrast to Howard County rules, religious institutions will also be allowed to open with 50% occupancy.
The county’s board of commissioners voted in favor of delaying their reopening plans after the governor lifted the statewide stay-at-home order earlier this month.
Businesses have received training through the county’s health department while increasing their supply of personal protective equipment with help from the county’s emergency services division.
Commissioner Reuben Collins, who voted in favor for the delay out of an “abundance of caution,” said the county is now ready to gradually reopen.
Charles County Chamber of Commerce Chair Tom Blandford said it is important for residents to support local businesses as part of helping reemerge out of the pandemic.
“Strong businesses make strong communities, and our local businesses are the very backbone of what makes of what makes Charles County the place we are all proud to call home,” Blandford said.
If the county plans to join Hogan’s Phase Two plans, which have not been announced yet, it will need to be voted on by the board, Collins said. The vote for the earlier delay ended with a narrow 3 to 2 majority.
“I can only imagine that it will be a very engaging discussion, but it will be one that we certainly anticipate,” Collins said of a county vote for Phase Two. “I think we’re just as ready as any community in the entire state to move forward.”
Montgomery Co. phased reopening could come within weeks
Montgomery County’s phased reopening could begin within a week and a half or two weeks, a county spokeswoman told WTOP.
“The data shows that we are still moving in the right direction and should be good for a phased in re-opening within that week and a half to two week timeframe,” the spokeswoman said in an emailed statement.
Last week, County Executive Marc Elrich warned the county wasn’t ready to begin a phased reopening.
Elrich said he would rely on the data and insight from Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, to determine a reopening timeline.
Number of new cases in Md. slows
Overall in Maryland, the number of recorded coronavirus cases grew to 47,687 Tuesday. The number of new reported cases — 535 — is the smallest number of new daily cases reported by the state in more than a month.
The state reported a total 4,910 test results Tuesday, down from a high of 9,215 test results the day before.
More than half of all cases in Maryland — 24,110 — stem from Prince George’s and Montgomery counties. Those two counties also account for just under half of all deaths in the state — 1,015 out of 2,217.
Prince George’s County plans to provide an update on reopening at a news conference Thursday.
WTOP’s Ken Duffy contributed to this report.