Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman laid out more details about how the county will handle its reopening Friday.
Pittman also spoke about the growing conflict between some of the county leaders and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan over the state’s reopening.
Efforts to reopen Anne Arundel Co. underway
On Thursday, Pittman outlined the businesses that would be allowed to operate as of 5 p.m. Friday. In a Friday news conference, he explained that a number of restrictions had to be cleared away in order to get businesses operating quickly.
Under ordinary circumstances, bars and restaurants would need special permits to allow them to operate outdoors, but Pittman said restaurants will now be permitted to establish temporary outdoor seating for 180 days, or until the pandemic wanes enough to allow for more normal business operation.
REOPENING PLANS AROUND THE REGION:
- Northern Virginia
- Montgomery County
- Prince George’s County
- Frederick, Anne Arundel and Charles counties
Pittman said pools would not need to complete the usual inspections before reopening, though inspections are expected to take place beginning June 5.
“Our office of law and permitting staff are cutting red tape like it’s never been cut before to make reopening possible,” Pittman said. “So, I want to thank all of my staff for putting in the long hours and thinking outside the government box to allow us to move forward quickly.”
Pittman also spoke about the county’s decision to use gross square footage to determine a building’s occupancy, as opposed to its fire code limit.
He said that people had questioned why the county had imposed a limit of one person per every 150 square feet, when 113 square feet would satisfy the 6-foot social distancing requirement.
“The answer is that we want people to be able to move within the walls of the building while still maintaining distance,” Pittman said.
Face coverings will be required for everyone inside stores.
County executives clash with Hogan
Pittman said he would like to see Maryland’s governor communicating more with county governments before making statewide decisions.
He also said that President Donald Trump’s statements, such as tweeting “Liberate Virginia!” and “Liberate Michigan,” encouraged protesters to mobilize against stay-at-home orders.
This, combined with people unable to file for unemployment because of statewide issues with the unemployment website, and businesses on the brink of closure left people frustrated and looking to vent their anger, according to Pittman.
When Hogan announced that county and municipal governments would be able to set their own pace for reopening, Pittman said Anne Arundel County had not met enough of the metrics for a safe reopening and decided not to join the rest of the state in fully entering Phase One.
Pittman said this made himself and other local leaders the direct targets of people’s ire.
“I cannot overstate the impact of that announcement,” Pittman said. “On social media, it was like lighting a match in a room with a gas leak. People now had local targets for their frustration — their own local governments.”
Pittman said that on May 12, he and other county leaders had joined the governor on a call in which Hogan discussed what he would talk about in his May 13 announcement.
Pittman said Hogan indicated that he may allow some businesses to reopen for curbside pickup, along with other minor changes, with no mention of entering the first phase of the recovery plan.
Earlier, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich also said he was caught off-guard by the governor’s decision to enter Phase One on May 15, and felt that the governor had inelegantly announced the reasoning behind allowing counties to set their own reopening plans.
“If he had just simply said, ‘I’m opening up the rest of the state because the conditions there warrant it, but I’m not doing these counties because the conditions are different,’ I would have been really happy,” Elrich said. ” … I felt he could have said it in a context that would have had people understand that the governor understood why we weren’t opening as opposed to us getting bombarded with questions such as ‘The governor reopened the state; why aren’t you doing it?’”
While announcing Montgomery County’s plan for Phase One of the reopening, Elrich was faced with a crowd of protesters who shouted insults such as “fascist” and “dictator” during his speech.
Though Elrich said he was pleased that the governor allowed counties and municipalities to set their own dates for reopening — even if he was unhappy about how the announcement was made — Pittman said he would have rather seen Hogan create a tiered plan for reopening that allowed better performing regions to begin to open, while keeping areas with higher case counts on lockdown — similar to what Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam did in Northern Virginia and other hard-hit areas of the commonwealth.
Pittman said he would like to see Hogan participate in the weekly calls with county leaders, as the last time he took part in one of those calls was just before the May 12 announcement.
Maryland was ready to complete Phase One of the reopening plan Friday. If the current downward trends continue, Hogan said the state could look toward entering Phase Two.
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