Maryland public schools will be closed for the rest of the school year, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced Wednesday. At the same time, Gov. Larry Hogan said he is loosening some of the restrictions put in place more than a month ago to reduce the spread of COVID-19.
Golf, tennis, fishing, boating and camping will be permitted beginning at 7 a.m. Thursday.
State parks and beaches that were closed under Hogan’s past orders will be opened.
And Hogan said the state Department of Health will develop guidelines to allow doctors to resume non-urgent and elective medical procedures.
Hogan said he can loosen these restrictions because for the last week, the number of hospitalizations has trended downward and the use of intensive care units has been relatively flat.
“If these trends continue into next week, we will be ready to lift the stay-at-home order and to begin stage one of our recovery plan,” Hogan said.
Stage one would include allowing some small businesses to reopen, and some personal services, such as haircuts, could resume. Outdoor religious services and outdoor gyms and fitness activities would also be allowed.
But the state is not ready to implement those plans just yet, Hogan said.To get there, people need to continue social distancing, wearing masks in public, and avoiding crowds larger than 10 people.
“All of this is predicated on people taking personal responsibility, on following the public health guidelines,” Hogan said. “Whenever you have more people outside doing more things, we run the risk of people not listening to that kind of advice.”
The other prerequisites for lifting the stay-at-home order and allowing businesses to reopen are widespread testing; large supplies of personal protective equipment; 6,000 more hospital beds than were available back in March; and a robust program of “contact tracing” — tracking down people who have been in contact with someone who has the virus.
Hogan touted progress on all fronts, and even in some areas not on that list.
He said Gilead Sciences has donated 1,600 doses of Remdesivir, a drug shown in a clinical trial to aid in recovery from COVID-19. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties will get these initial doses. Together, the two counties have nearly half of the state’s COVID-19 cases.
Despite the progress, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that students will not be returning to the classroom this school year. They will continue learning online.
“I am convinced this is the appropriate decision in order to continue to protect the health and safety of our students, educators, staff, and all members of school communities throughout Maryland,” Salmon said.
Cheryl Bost, president of the Maryland State Education Association teachers union, praised the decision in a statement. However, she also called it a “sad day” for teachers, who miss their students and wish they could see them in person.
Just as Hogan has outlined for businesses, Salmon described schools reopening in three stages.
Schools are not likely to open in the first phase of Hogan’s recovery plan, Salmon said. “But different methods of returning to school could be included in stage two and three.”
For example, schools could bring groups of students back on alternating days or alternating weeks. Or they could bring back students who have the biggest challenges with distance learning, such as students with disabilities or who are learning English.
The full student body will return in stage three, Salmon said. But there will still be changes from the way things used to be.
“Schedules for instruction, meals and transportation may all require modifications,” she said.