The stay-at-home order in Maryland could be lifted as soon as early May, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Friday as he unveiled the Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery.
The roadmap consists of three stages that gradually allow more social movement and fluid business activity, starting with low-risk activities and moving toward higher risk ones.
“This document is a roadmap, not a calendar,” the Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery states. “The Administration does not intend to set dates or telegraph benchmarks for moving through this journey. Unfortunately, the virus dictates the speed with which the State can move.”
Hogan said in a news briefing Friday the first step would consist of lifting the stay-at-home order, along with allowing recreational activities like golfing, boating, outdoor fitness classes and other outdoor activities.
Stage two, Hogan said, would include a “more normal public transit schedule” and a larger number of businesses could re-open, as long they follow strict public health protocols. Bars and restaurants could be included here, but the protocols must be followed, he said.
The final stage would be re-opening “higher risk activities” like concerts and larger religious activities, a lessening of restrictions at hospitals, and finally nursing homes, Hogan said.
The stages will include sub-phases to be announced by the governor.
The governor said the first stage could hopefully start in early May, but he called on all Marylanders to do their part regarding social distancing and following public health protocols to ensure the safety of all residents.
“If we try to rush this, and if we don’t do it in a thoughtful and responsible way, it could cause a rebound of the virus, which could deepen the economic crisis, prolong the fiscal problems, and slow our economic recovery,” Hogan said.
The state is not quite ready to start implementing the roadmap, despite Hogan’s wish that he could open the state today.
Before the first stage, the state needs to be on a 14-day downward trajectory, or at the very least plateauing in the number of deaths, hospitalizations and patients in intensive care. The state has seen three such days, Hogan said.
“So it looks like a pattern, but the doctors have said to me — they’re a lot smarter than me — and they say, ‘Governor, three days does not make a trend,’” Hogan said.
The clock does not reset each time there is a new spike in deaths or the other measures, the governor said. Looking at new cases is not a good measure because the number can be affected as testing continues to be ramped up in the state.
The state needs to wait a minimum of 14 days in between the first and second stage to ensure the additional actions taken have not caused a new outbreak of COVID-19, Hogan said. If the actions taken do have negative consequences, the government will respond appropriately, which could include rolling back some of the steps, according to the roadmap.
The additional stages will take longer, Hogan said, adding that it is subject to the numbers.
When considering the numbers, the governor said he was hopeful about the early May start, but admitted it was “guesswork a little bit.”
“We’re just hopeful that those numbers are going to get better and continue. We’ve had a couple of days where things looked better, but a couple of days. Three days does not make a trend,” Hogan said.
‘A well thought out roadmap’
The plan to reopen is built off of four building blocks, the governor previously announced. The state is on track to acquire more personal protective equipment, increase testing in the state and create a robust contact tracing operation, according to the state’s website. The state is ahead of schedule on the fourth block, increasing hospital surge capacity.
While the roadmap lays out the guide for the state to reopen, it also states that physical distancing and wearing of masks will likely continue until the state of emergency is lifted.
Even then, Hogan said that Marylanders should expect some changes to normal life until a vaccine for SARS-CoV-2 is created and offered to the public.
In addition to the roadmap, Hogan announced 13 industry-focused advisory boards. The Maryland coronavirus task force is now the Maryland Coronavirus Recovery Team, and in addition to the medical professionals on the task force, several members of the business sectors will be on it.
Hogan said his small business background weighed on his mind as he closed much of the state.
“The entire focus of my administration has been growing the private sector, creating jobs and turning our economy around. It’s the reason I ran for governor. It breaks my heart to see so many Marylanders struggling and going through so much economic pain,” Hogan said.
Dr. Randall Culpepper, deputy health officer for Frederick County, said in an email that Hogan engaged advisers in the health field and business community to shape the roadmap.
“Governor Hogan has provided a well thought out roadmap that our state can safely follow as we look forward to reenergizing our community,” Culpepper said in the email. “His phased approach to reopening businesses and restoring social activity will maximize the opportunity to protect the health and welfare of our citizens.”
County Executive Jan Gardner said in an email Friday evening that the governor’s roadmap “makes sense and follows the recommendations of doctors and medical experts.”
It is important for county residents and businesses to understand that the phase-in does not start now, Gardner added, noting the need to see a decline in hospitalizations, deaths and ICU bed use over a 14-day period.
Gardner also said the coronavirus pandemic has impacted Frederick County’s agriculture industry.
“As meat processing plants have closed due to COVID in their workforce, this has created an issue for the livestock industry,” Gardner said. “Dramatic drops in commodity prices for dairy, livestock and grains has been problematic. Low prices are hurting our farmers and this is not a localized issue but a broader national issue.”
Agricultural economic issues are driven by local, regional and national markets, Gardner added.
“Agriculture will be most impacted by these larger economic issues created by or resulting from the impacts of the coronavirus on other related industries or commodity and consumer markets,” she said.