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Howard County Stores, Hair Salons Can Open At Half-Capacity Starting Friday

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Retailers, hair salons and barbers in Howard County can open at 50% capacity starting Friday morning, County Executive Calvin Ball announced Tuesday. It marks a slight easing of the county’s current restrictions, which allow stores to offer curbside pickup and delivery and allow hair salons and barbershops to open by appointment in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.

The new rules also permit religious institutions to hold outdoor services with up to 250 people, so long as they can sit or stand six feet apart from one other. The rules currently in place prohibit any services, indoor or outdoor, larger than 10 people.

However, it is not yet safe to allow indoor services with more than 10 people, county officials said during a video call with reporters Tuesday morning.

County Health Officer Maura Rossman said risk is essentially exposure multiplied by time.

“So when you are indoors for a lengthy period of time, as a religious service is, it just increases your risk of exposure, in contrast to retail, which we hoping people are getting in and going out, making their purchases and leaving,” Rossman said.

Ball said he is able to loosen the restrictions because there are fewer COVID-19 patients in intensive care units or on ventilators, as well as fewer confirmed cases overall. The county has also stepped up its contact tracing efforts and has an estimated 30-day supply of personal protective equipment.

But Ball warned that the easing of restrictions may not be permanent.

“As we begin to lift more restrictions, we will continue to keep a close eye on our data and ease or tighten restrictions as needed,” he said. “As we've seen in other states and other jurisdictions, if we do not move intentionally and safely with reopening, we may see significant outbreaks or resurgence.”

After all, he said, COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon.

Rachel Baye is a senior reporter and editor in WYPR's newsroom.
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