Despite Gov. Larry Hogan’s move to ease pandemic-related restrictions beginning Friday, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young says the city cannot safely reopen due to a lack of testing and personal protective equipment.
Meanwhile, the county executives in Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties said Thursday they would ease a few restrictions.
And State Senate President Bill Ferguson and Adrienne Jones, Speaker of the House of Delegates, sent a joint letter to Hogan saying they have “concerns” about his plan to re-open Maryland “without first understanding and having access to the data guiding those decision points.”
They pointed to federal reports that say states must have "a robust plan to trace each contact of confirmed cases" and argued that Maryland fails that requirement.
The presiding officers called for "full transparency" and daily, detailed updates on the state's testing program.
It's the testing program that lead to Young's decision, he said in a news conference Thursday.
"To date, the state has failed to provide local jurisdictions including Baltimore City with the testing resources we need to be able to safely reopen,” he said. “I’d very much like to reopen but until the state steps up to the plate and provides us with testing help, it’d be irresponsible to relax our restrictions.”
All of Baltimore’s testing resources have come from the city’s health department or local hospitals, Young said.
Young said he made his decision to extend Baltimore’s stay at home order after discussing how many tests the city should be performing each day with a team of health experts.
The ideal number is 2,700 tests a day, said Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, the city health commissioner.
But from May 4 through May 10, the most recent full week, the city only managed to conduct an average of 571 tests per day.
Other key benchmarks Young wants to hit before reopening include sustained decreases of new cases and deaths and securing a robust contact tracing system.
Dzirasa said it is absolutely necessary for Baltimoreans to continue to stay home and wear face masks in public settings.
Hogan’s new guidance will allow retail stores, hair salons, barber shops, manufacturing facilities and other businesses to reopen, some at limited capacities.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said Thursday afternoon he will not extend the governor’s stay-at-home order in the county beyond 5 pm Friday. But Olszewski said people should still stay home.
Restrictions remain in place in Baltimore County, including a ban on gatherings of 10 or more people. Churches cannot hold worship services. Personal services such as barber shops and nail salons must remain closed. Retail stores in the county will be allowed to reopen for curbside pickup and delivery only.
“I recognize that these announcements will not be welcome news to everyone,” Olszewski said. “But moving too quickly would reverse all of the progress we’ve made over the last two months. So I ask for grace from those who might not agree with all of my decisions.”
Olszewski said there is not enough personal protection gear, COVID-19 testing, and contact tracing available for Baltimore County to safely reopen.
“Where we could move forward toward reopening we want to,” Olszewski said. “Where it was clear we weren’t yet in a position to safely reopen, we opted not to.”
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced Thursday many of the same provisions as Olszewski with one exception. Hair salons in Anne Arundel can open, but under severe restrictions. They must operate by appointment only and only allow one customer in the salon at a time. Everyone else must wait in their car.