Maryland is poised to move forward with the completion of Phase One of the state’s reopening plan on Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced. And, if these “encouraging downward trends continue into next week,” Hogan said the state will then be in a position to begin entering Phase Two.
“Now, after another 14 days of continued encouraging trends, Maryland is ready to take the additional steps to complete stage one of our gradual safe and effective recovery plan,” Hogan said.
Starting 5 p.m. Friday, restaurants and social organizations — such as American Legions, VFWs or Elk Clubs — will be able to begin to reopen for outdoor dining; youth sports and youth day camps may resume; and outdoor pools and drive-in movie theaters can reopen. Strict guidelines must be followed in order to proceed.
Restaurants must follow strict public health requirements from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Food and Drug Administration and the National Restaurant Association.
This means that restaurant customers must maintain an appropriate distance, each table can have no more than six people, restaurants must provide single-use disposable paper menus, and tables and chair must be sanitized between seatings.
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Also allowed to resume Friday are outdoor activities, including limited low-contact outdoor practices for youth sports. These should have limited group sizes, and there should be limited touching of shared equipment and gear, as well as the ability to engage in physical distancing.
Youth day camps can also resume for outdoor activities with a limit of no more than 10 people in a group. But out-of-state or overnight campers are not allowed.
Outdoor pools may also reopen with strict safety guidelines, including 25% capacity restrictions, and strict physical distancing and sanitation measures.
Hogan said the state reached its goal of being able to conduct 10,000 tests a day on Wednesday. He noted progress not just in testing but in contact tracing as well.
As for positive health trends, Hogan said total hospitalizations due to the virus are down 22% since the state’s peak on April 30, and they are down 17% in the last 14 days. The number of patients in intensive care has been on a steady plateau for 28 days since April 29.
The governor said that all jurisdictions statewide are able to move forward with fully completing the first stage of reopening. He added that 23 of 24 jurisdictions have entered or announced their plans to enter Phase One, with Montgomery County being the exception.
Prince George’s, Montgomery counties ‘ought to move forward’
Without mentioning any names, Hogan said he did not want to criticize county leaders.
“I know they all have very difficult jobs,” he said. He also noted that Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have higher coronavirus numbers than the rest of the state.
Though he didn’t name Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, Hogan said he was “hopeful” that “the county executive there will listen to all the best advice, follow the numbers and make the decisions that are right for his county. I don’t know that he is aware of the latest information.”
Hogan said recent data indicated that a downward trend coronavirus numbers. The positive rate in Prince George’s County has dropped nearly 50%, from a high of 41.96% on May 2 to the current rate of 21.66%. Montgomery County has also dropped by more than 50%, from a high of 32.64% to 15.84%.
“The county leaders aren’t really paying attention to the state plan. They’re kind of making up their own metrics,” Hogan said.
As testing across the state increases, Hogan said there will be more cases, but that is not what officials should be looking at.
“We look at the hospitalizations, the ICU and these positivity rates, all of which are trending in the right direction, including Prince George’s, Montgomery County,” Hogan said. “They’re doing great. They started out in a really bad place, but they’re all following the same trend of downward, cut in half. So, I think they ought to move forward.”
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said last week that the county is on its way to a modified reopening June 1, provided current coronavirus data trends continue. Alsobrooks will hold a news conference Thursday at 10 a.m. to give an update on the county’s coronavirus response, and she will announce the task force that will spearhead the county’s recovery plan.
Hours after Hogan’s news conference, Montgomery County announced Wednesday night that Elrich and other county officials will hold a news conference Thursday to announce the county’s plans for reopening. It will take place in Kentlands Market Squre at 2:30 p.m.
At a separate briefing earlier Wednesday, Elrich said that with improving COVID-19 metrics in the region, an announcement about a reopening plan for Montgomery County would come sometime in the next two weeks.
Elrich said the county has been putting together a modified version of Hogan’s business pledge, though aspects of the county pledge would be mandatory for a business to qualify for reopening.
Though case numbers in Montgomery County are trending downward, and many of the CDC metrics for reopening have been met or will be met in a matter of days if current trends continue, Elrich said the county would not reopen as soon as Friday because businesses would not have the information that they would need to plan for a safe reopening.
Elrich said the large crowds seen at Ocean City, Maryland, over Memorial Day weekend did concern him, and he hoped that they would not cause a spike in cases in Montgomery County.
Hogan said that he believes most people are paying attention but there are some people who not taking the guidelines seriously and are displaying reckless behavior.
“I was a little bit shocked to see some of the photographs or the video of people on the boardwalk in Ocean City with some of those crowds, which didn’t appear to be too safe to me,” Hogan said.
Six Flags in Prince George’s Co. to offer COVID-19 testing
The Six Flags America amusement park in Prince George’s County, Maryland, is being turned into a “major” drive-through coronavirus testing site, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.
The new testing site will open Friday, the governor’s office announced in a news release. The site will be open from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., according to the Maryland Department of Health.
“There are now more COVID-19 testing options for Maryland residents than ever,” Hogan said in a statement. “Using our expanded capacity and supplies, we continue to increase testing options by opening new sites and enhancing capacity at existing testing locations.”
People seeking COVID-19 tests at the Six Flags site do not need appointments or doctors’ orders. The tests will be administered by the Maryland Department of Health.
The announcement of the Six Flags site came as another testing site in Prince George’s County was unexpectedly closed Wednesday.
The testing site at the converted Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program station in Hyattsville was closed Wednesday seemingly without notice, according to a tweet from County Executive Angela Alsobrooks.
“We regret so many of our residents were inconvenienced by this unexpected closing,” she said. The site is run by the state.
The State did not notify us they were closing their testing site in Hyattsville today. As a reminder, any resident seeking testing can call our County Health Department hotline at 301-883-6627. We regret so many of our residents were inconvenienced by this unexpected closing.
— County Executive Angela Alsobrooks (@CEXAlsobrooks) May 27, 2020
In addition, another testing site at a converted VEIP station in Clinton, which was set to open Thursday on an appointment-free basis, will actually require appointments, the Maryland Department of Health said in a tweet.
The department said all VEIP stations are operating on an appointment-only basis this week.
Maryland maintains an interactive map of testing locations across the state.
Questions about Md. contracts
At a separate legislative hearing earlier Wednesday, The Associated Press reported that state Sen. Paul Pinsky criticized the head of the Maryland Department of General Services over two pandemic-related deals that have drawn big headlines.
Pinsky, a Prince George’s County Democrat who chairs the Senate Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, had questions about a $12.5 million contract for personal protective equipment and the lack of components needed to actually use the test kits acquired from a South Korean company.
Pinsky was critical of the contract for PPE awarded to Blue Flame Medical, a company founded by two politically connected Republicans with very little background in procuring the equipment.
“I’m a little confused about looking at their resumes and their past work experience that allowed you to approve a $12.5 million contract in 48 hours,” Pinsky asked Ellington Churchill, the head of the state’s procurement department.
Churchill underscored the urgency as the state was seeking the scarce equipment in March.
“As a part of procurement, we don’t look at who the principal is in terms of the company,” Churchill said. “What we are most concerned about especially during this time period was the ability to execute.”
Pinsky also criticized the Hogan administration for announcing the acquiring of 500,000 test kits from a South Korean company — only to lack many of the components needed to actually use them to test Maryland residents.
Other senators questioned Churchill on the procurement, and he repeatedly deferred to the health department.
Pinsky said he believed Churchill was “abdicating responsibility.”
“By in large, in all the contracts I’ve looked at, they’ve been responsible, respectful, appropriately vetted,” Pinsky said. “The two areas that have come up today with these committees and personally are two areas that bend in the area of politics and unfortunately they were mistakes, disasters and I think you were complicit in it.”
Hogan, asked about the questioning at the hearing during his news conference Wednesday afternoon, noted that he said at the time of the test kit announcement about a month ago that they were only part of what was needed.
“There were multiple components, as I announced, and we’ve been acquiring them all over the past month since I announced,” Hogan said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.