County Executive Jan Gardner (D) issued an executive order Thursday which allows for a partial re-opening of some businesses countywide beginning Friday at 5 p.m.
Gardner said at a news briefing Thursday she heard from many business owners and local municipal leaders who were split on whether to extend the stay-at-home order, versus those who wanted to reopen as many businesses as possible.
“I appreciate that this is not what everyone will like,” Gardner said. “Some people wanted me to keep the county completely shut down, and others wanted to see our business activities open faster ... I own this decision, I’ll be responsible for this decision.”
That decision, laid out in the executive order, does allow for curbside pickup for retail businesses, and a partial reopening of small businesses under 10,000 square feet in size, beginning May 15 at 5 p.m. It also allows for manufacturing — Gardner said during the briefing that most of those businesses were probably already operating through the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Small businesses must follow guidelines to ensure public health, including having someone watch the front door to monitor people entering and leaving and help limit stores to 50 percent capacity, Gardner said.
Patrons and employees must wear face coverings and adhere to social distancing practices, Gardner said. Cash payment should be minimized, she added.
“If this first step does not cause a rise in hospitalizations and we do not see an influx of patients from our nursing homes as we get the results of testing, then other establishments and other activities permitted by the governor will be allowed to begin in two weeks,” Gardner said.
Those other establishments include hair salons, barbershops and places of worship, which can open Friday, May 29, given there aren’t rising trends of hospitalizations, intensive care unit patients and acute care bed use and other important health metrics, Gardner said.
Workers at barbershops and salons must maintain the 50 percent occupancy rate and clean thoroughly throughout the day, as laid out by the governor’s recommendations, Gardner said. She added there would be a requirement for “special hours” for seniors and vulnerable residents at barbershops and salons and similar businesses.
Religious leaders must enforce the seven-foot distance rule between family groups and individuals at places of worship, occupancy must be limited to 50 percent, temperatures must be taken of congregants at the entrance and there must be no singing or hymns or songs, Gardner said. Congregants must also wear face coverings, she added.
After the news briefing, Gardner said one of her main concerns was people from nearby jurisdictions in Maryland and elsewhere traveling to Frederick County and shopping, based on actions other county leaders have taken.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said earlier this week he would issue a local stay-at-home order after Hogan’s expires at 5 p.m. Friday, May 15, Bethesda Beat reported. Howard County Executive Calvin Ball also announced this week his county is not ready to re-open, the Howard County Times reported.
The Carroll County Times reported Thursday that Board of Commissioners Stephen Wantz (R) said his county is “ready to go” and will reopen under the governor’s guidelines for Stage 1.
“I’ve heard today from a lot of workers, whether they’re in retail ... or in barbershops and salons,” Gardner said after Thursday’s briefing. “And some of them are terrified to go back to work.”
She added she chose to delay the re-opening of some businesses — like hair salons and barbershops — because it’s more difficult to social distance in those types of environments, adding, “You’re going to see the vulnerable population want to go to both.”
She added that some businesses may choose not to re-open even if allowed, in order to protect their workers and the public. Public health metrics will continue to guide her decisions, and she will provide an update on whether more businesses can soon re-open on Thursday, May 21 at 11 a.m., she said.
Some businesses, like dine-in service at bars and restaurants, will remain closed until the latter stages of Gov. Hogan’s roadmap to re-opening the state.
Reacting to the coronavirus pandemic has dominated Gardner’s schedule the past several weeks, she said.
“Every day, I have spent maybe 16 hours a day focused on health issues,” Gardner said.
Frederick Mayor Michael O’Connor (D) said city officials will follow the county’s actions, and the city’s state of emergency remains in effect.
“As your Mayor, I would like nothing more than to fully reopen our City,” O’Connor said in a prepared statement. “However, we know the virus is still in our community, and risk remains. The zip codes that include and surround The City of Frederick account for 78 percent of our county’s COVID-19 cases.
“As we move forward, collaboration and communication will remain critical. I would like to thank our residents who have recently reached out with ideas and questions regarding re-opening strategies.”