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Hogan Lifts More Restrictions On Businesses, Pushing State Further Into 'Recovery'

Rachel Baye / WYPR


  Effective Friday at 5 p.m., some non-essential businesses will be allowed to open as the state enters the second phase of Gov. Larry Hogan’s recovery plan, the governor announced Wednesday. 


But state health officials also warned on Wednesday that there will likely be a second wave of COVID-19 cases this fall, and maybe even a third wave and a fourth.


At a press conference Wednesday afternoon, Hogan rattled off a laundry list of some of the categories of businesses that will be allowed to open. 


“Manufacturing, construction, large and small retail shops, specialty vendors, wholesalers, warehouses and offices, including information technology firms, legal offices, accounting, banking, financial institutions, insurance agencies, design studios, advertising and architectural firms and media production companies will all be open and operational in Maryland,” Hogan said. “Real estate offices, travel agencies, auto dealer showrooms, bank branches, and various other businesses and offices can all safely reopen with public health — health and safety guidance recommendations in place.”

But entering phase two does not mean the risk of COVID-19 is gone, so the state is issuing recommendationsfor how to open safely. These include wearing masks, keeping six feet away from other people, and staying home if you’re sick.


Businesses offering personal services, such as tattoo parlors, massage parlors, and nail and tanning salons, will be only allowed to open by appointment, serving up to half of their maximum capacity at a time. 


“I want to be very clear,” Hogan said. “Just because Marylanders can return to the office doesn't mean that they should, and employees who can telework should continue teleworking whenever possible.”


State government offices that have been closed since March will resume operations on Monday.


Local officials have some flexibility to set their own rules, so which businesses may open will likely vary county by county.


Hogan’s announcement came a few hours after state health officials warned members of the General Assembly’s COVID-19 workgroup that a second wave of COVID-19 is likely in the late summer or early fall.


Fran Phillips, deputy secretary for public health services at the Maryland Department of Health, told state lawmakers Wednesday morning that the state’s infection rate is in a temporary “lull.”


“We know that there's not a vaccine on the horizon anytime soon,” she said. “And we know that that continued vulnerability of Marylanders, the vulnerability to this deadly and highly transmissible virus will be with us for months and months to come.”


She said one of the keys to withstanding a new surge in cases will be widely available tests, a point Hogan repeated later at his press conference.


“As the normal flu season begins, the demand for COVID tests will skyrocket as people are suffering flu-like symptoms,” Hogan said.


He said Maryland is better situated than most states because of what he called a “strategic stockpile of tests,” which includes many of the tests he bought from South Korea, as well as new capacity to process the tests at a University of Maryland lab.


Another challenge will be ensuring that hospitals have sufficient room for new COVID-19 patients if there is a second, third or even fourth wave of cases, Maryland Health Secretary Bobby Neall told the state legislature’s COVID-19 workgroup on Wednesday.


“Now that we're starting to reopen the economy and bring on elective surgeries, the hospitals will see an increase in their overall capacity,” Neall said. “And therefore we're going to be balancing, you know, keeping the doors open and providing service to patients while at the same time being ready for what could be ... could be a much larger second surge late summer or sometime in the fall.”


As the businesses are allowed to reopen and pre-pandemic activities can resume, it’s important to remember that until there’s a vaccine, no business or activity is safe from the coronavirus, said Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and one of the people advising Hogan on his recovery plan. 


Some businesses are just riskier than others, he said.


“We do need to be prepared to pause on the reopening process if things move in the wrong direction,” Inglesby said. “If the hospital indicators, in particular, move dangerously in the wrong direction, it might be that we need even to reverse some of the decisions.”


Hogan’s recovery team is monitoring the effects of each change and each category of business that is allowed to reopen, he said. But it will likely be at least two weeks before any impact is noticeable. 


He said it could take up to four or even six weeks to really see if reopening leads to any new outbreaks.

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