The Board of Commissioners in Charles County, Maryland, voted on Wednesday to enter Phase Three of the lifting of COVID-19 health restrictions.
The move came one day after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan authorized counties to enter the new phase.
It means more businesses can open, and most capacities can increase to 75%, starting at 5 p.m. Friday.
County Attorney Wes Adams laid out some of the new requirements, as well as some of the gray areas that remain and judgment calls that need to be made.
Retail businesses can move up to 75% capacity, while most other indoor establishments stay at 50%, Adams said. Masks are still required at all indoor establishments, and signs denoting the requirement to wear a mask to come inside are also required.
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Outdoor gatherings can have up to 250 people, and outdoor recreational facilities can open to a 100% capacity and indoor facilities to a 50% capacity, Adams said. That can get complicated in parks with multiple venues, Adams said, but “common sense” and an eye on the overarching goal of distancing and masks should be paramount.
Indoor and outdoor movie theaters and concert halls can open at either 50% capacity or 100 people, whichever is fewer, Adams said before the vote. Indoor theaters and other entertainment venues will be required to submit a plan to Health Officer Dr. Dianna Abney for reopening.
The move was promoted by Dr. Howard Haft, executive director of the Maryland Primary Care Program at the Maryland Department of Health, who said that such venues pose the greatest concern. “It’s a higher risk than other elements that are being opened,” Haft said.
Abney agreed, adding that many people go to the movies or the theater with people who they don’t live with. “I would be in favor of getting a plan that we would review,” she said.
The commissioners weren’t sure how the updated capacities would apply to public transportation, such as VanGO.
Abney said that “We have to make sure that people understand the important of social distancing and wearing our masks while inside.”
She explained that the “difference in air quality” and “movement of air” will change as the weather gets cooler and places such as restaurants have to close their doors.
As long as people follow the rules, “We should continue to see our numbers look good,” she said. Otherwise, more people will be at risk, she said.
Haft agreed that the move to Phase Three was appropriate but it “was not a sign” that vigilance should be dropped.
Abney said that the leaders at the Department of Health will meet later Wednesday to iron out some of the details.
Calvert County plans to move into Phase Three on Friday.
St. Mary’s County is also planning to enter Phase Three on Friday. See more of those details here.
After Hogan’s announcement Tuesday, Howard County said it would move forward into Phase Three.
Prince George’s County will make an announcement on their plans Thursday.
See more information on what happens in Maryland’s Phase Three.
WTOP’s Teta Alim contributed to this report.