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Hogan: All Businesses Can Open Starting Friday

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Theaters and concert venues can open beginning Friday at 5 p.m., just in time for Labor Day Weekend. Gov. Larry Hogan announced that change Tuesday with the news that Maryland is entering the third and final phase of his COVID-19 recovery plan.


Theaters for both movies and live performances, concert arenas, and other entertainment venues will be allowed to open at half capacity, up to a maximum of 100 people at an indoor venue, or 250 people at an outdoor venue. 


Retail stores and houses of worship will be allowed to increase the number of people inside, from 50% of their normal capacity to 75%. 


At a press conference Tuesday, Hogan said the key health metrics indicate that these changes are safe.


“We continue to be in much better shape than the nation and better than most states across the country,” Hogan said.


Hogan highlighted the positivity rate, hospitalizations, intensive care unit occupancy, and the number of cases as a portion of Maryland’s population, all of which are on the decline.


Hogan offered his usual warning that the virus remains a threat until there’s a vaccine. But he said his decision to enter phase three is about more than Marylanders’ physical health. 


“While it is absolutely critical to remain vigilant as we battle this deadly virus, it is also important that we continue to fight to protect and improve our economy and the health of our small business community and our struggling Maryland families by continuing to push to safely reopen our economy, and to get more people safely back to work,” he said.


The move appears to contradict the plan Hogan outlined in April. That plan listed entertainment venues, larger social and religious gatherings, and high-capacity bars and restaurants as “high-risk.” According to the plan, high-risk businesses can’t open without “either a widely available and FDA-approved vaccine or safe and effective therapeutics that can rescue patients with significant disease or prevent serious illness in those most at risk to reach a full return to normal conditions.”

Asked about this discrepancy during Tuesday’s press conference, Hogan said things have changed since the spring.


“The plan has changed a lot since April when we put that out,” Hogan said. “We've already opened a number of phase three things in phase two, and we did a number of phase two things in phase one. So it’s an evolving process.”


He said Maryland is one of only a handful of states in the country that has not reopened movie theaters. In particular, he cited Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware.


“We believe we’re able to move safely forward,” Hogan said. “And we're not opening at full capacity. We're still taking it — we're just slowly entering phase three, and we're gonna see how that goes before we lift all the safe capacity restrictions and whatnot.”


The Maryland Department of Commerce created advisory groups for different industries to help develop guidelines for how to reopen safely, said Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz. 


“These included recommendations for keeping a clean workplace, staggering employee shifts to minimize contact, installing signage or barriers to encourage social distancing, and other crucial steps to help us curb the spread of COVID-19 as the state reopened,” Schulz said.


As with previous changes to the restrictions meant to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the leaders of each county and Baltimore City can decide whether to follow the state’s lead or to keep tighter COVID-19 restrictions in place. Some, such as Howard County, have already announced they plan to follow Hogan into phase three. 

In Baltimore County, however, Sean Naron, spokesman for County Executive Johnny Olszewski, said Hogan’s announcement came as a surprise. Naron said county leaders “will identify our next steps after consulting with our public health and economic development teams.”

Rachel Baye is a reporter for WYPR's newsroom.
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