Declaring that Maryland is no longer constrained by vaccine supply, and with rapidly improving COVID-19 metrics, Gov. Larry Hogan lifted all mask requirements in outdoor settings Wednesday and hinted that more restrictions could be lifted very soon.
Effective immediately, Maryland residents no longer have to wear masks in outdoor settings, regardless of whether they have been vaccinated.
The policy does not apply to what Hogan described as "large-ticketed venues," such as stadiums or outdoor concert venues, and masks are still required at all indoor businesses, whether they are public or private, and on public transportation.
Beginning Saturday, bars and restaurants are free to resume standing service in outdoor settings with no limits placed on capacity. However, indoors, bars and restaurants will still only be able to offer seated service and adhere to physical distancing requirements.
"As our vaccinations continue to expand and our health metrics continue to improve, we expect to be able to take additional actions in the weeks ahead and a return to a sense of normalcy," Hogan said.
When asked what the Fourth of July might look like in Maryland, the governor said, "Hopefully, it's going to look a lot like, not like last July 4th but maybe the July 4th before."
Symbolically, Hogan (R) delivered his remarks Wednesday outdoors at the base of the front steps of the governor's mansion. Wearing all black clothing and dark sunglasses and no mask on a warm and sunny afternoon, he urged all Marylanders to move as much of their activity as they can outdoors during the coming months to help reduce transmission of the novel coronavirus.
He said his policy is in line with updated guidance issued Tuesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that said fully vaccinated people no longer have to wear masks in outdoor settings.
Responding to a question about that, Hogan said, "We can't check ID's to see if you have been vaccinated or not. You have had plenty of time to get a vaccine. You can get one anywhere. Everybody who has been fully vaccinated can no longer continue to be held back by the few who are refusing to."
As has been the case throughout the pandemic, Hogan's orders cannot be ignored, but stricter measures can be imposed by local leaders.
In an emailed response Wednesday evening to the governor's announcement, Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) said she was reviewing Hogan's order and how it lined up with regulations imposed by the Frederick County Board of Health. She said she would continue to encourage people who are not vaccinated to wears masks outdoors when they can't physically distance.
"COVID-19 is still with us with dozens of new cases per day (34 today), 11 deaths in the last week, and 20 or more people in the hospital every day this week and over 40 just a week ago," Gardner said.
"I support following the federal guidelines issued today to allow vaccinated people to not wear masks outdoors when they are with others who are vaccinated or in small groups. Out of an abundance of caution and to avoid a resurgence of cases, particularly among those who are not yet vaccinated, masks should be worn by everyone in large gatherings and ticketed events."
Gardner added, "The larger message is to get vaccinated so we can eliminate the need for masks everywhere and win the war against the virus. We know the vaccines work. We need to encourage young people to get vaccinated because they can still get seriously ill and even risk death. We need a much higher percentage of our adults under 65 to get vaccinated to protect themselves, their families, their co-workers, and their children. But, most important we need to get more people vaccinated to crush the virus once and for all! We can do it!"
Idiom Brewing on Carroll Creek is one business planning to take advantage of the new capacity guidelines. Owner Mike Clements said that outdoor space has been “absolutely critical” during the pandemic, and having more of it available would be helpful to the business.
"We would absolutely be able to put new tables,” Clements said. "And without the restrictions of having to have actual physical seats at a table, we would be able to have people sit on benches and things of that nature that are outside as well.”
He also said he would be open to having standing room on the patio if people were interested.
Many businesses might be able to benefit from the lifted restrictions, but haven’t made decisions about how to proceed yet. Daniel Kelley, manager at Brewer’s Alley, said he wasn’t sure what the restaurant and bar will do going forward, but he’s excited to see things move in the right direction. Standing room, if implemented, could greatly increase the capacity of the rooftop bar at Brewer’s.
"That’s something we’re all very much looking froward to, but that’s not something that we’re going to jump the gun on,” Kelley said.
Carly Ogden, co-owner of Attaboy Beer on Sagner Avenue, agreed that she would have to think about how to best move forward. She acknowledged that outdoor seating has been a huge part of Attaboy’s ability to survive the pandemic, and she doesn’t want to make any patrons uncomfortable by making things too crowded too soon.
With more than 4.5 million vaccines administered in Maryland, including more than 194,000 in Frederick County, Hogan said the state is entering a new phase of the vaccine campaign.
On Saturday, all eligible state residents (16-and-over) will be able to go online and immediately book an appointment at covidvax.maryland.gov, as Maryland does away with its pre-registration system since vaccine supply is no longer a concern.
By the end of the day Friday, Hogan said that anyone already in the pre-registration system to get a vaccine will have been contacted about getting an appointment.
Individuals in need of special assistance to get vaccinated, including homebound patients and those in need of transportation, were encouraged to call Maryland's vaccination support center at 1-855-634-2829. It's available every day from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m.
Hogan said that more than 60 percent of Maryland residents 18-and-older have received at least one dose of the vaccine and that 85 percent of state residents over 65 have gotten at least one shot.
He also touted that Maryland has the lowest transmission rate and seen the biggest drop in new coronavirus cases in the country, but warned that people who haven't been vaccinated are putting themselves at risk for hospitalization and death.
"I want to stress once again that the fastest way we can put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as soon as possible," Hogan said.
Staff writer Erika Riley contributed to this report