Declaring the time is right with improving coronavirus metrics and a rising number of vaccinations, Gov. Larry Hogan removed capacity restrictions imposed on Maryland businesses because of the pandemic while keeping statewide masking and distancing mandates in place.

The new rules, which allow restaurants, retail stores and other businesses to operate at full capacity, go into effect at 5 p.m. Friday. They were announced by Hogan (R) during a Tuesday afternoon press conference from the State House.

The food service industry will still have to abide by rules for indoor and outdoor dining that call for customers to be seated and spaced apart.

"You can't be standing, jammed into a bar," Hogan said. "That's still against the regulations."

Capacity limits were also lifted for religious facilities, fitness centers, casinos, personal services and indoor recreational businesses.

Meanwhile, for larger indoor and outdoor venues, such as stadiums and concert and wedding venues, capacity will expand to 50 percent, with masking and distancing requirements still in place.

"We have been following a very balanced approach from the beginning of this," Hogan said. "Our health metrics are great, as I said, and it's time to get the economy going."

There was some debate, per the way the executive order is written, if county executives still had the authority to keep more restrictive measures in place.

A paragraph in Hogan's executive order outlining a local jurisdiction's authority to impose more restrictive measures concludes by stating the "above shall cease to be effective at 5:00 p.m. on March 12, 2021, at which time all local orders issued pursuant to paragraph I.d above shall become null and void."

Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, in response to a user asking about this, wrote on Twitter: "Counties have established their own emergency powers and authorities during the pandemic, and those powers are unaffected."

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) was still in the process of reviewing the order, per Communications Director Vivian Laxton.

Laxton did, however, note the order from the Board of Health—which consists of the county executive and County Council members, with the county health officer as the executive officer and secretary—would remain in effect past Friday, barring any further action.

That board's most recent order prohibits gatherings of more than 25 people indoors and outdoors, caps wedding venues at 50 percent capacity and fitness centers at 25 percent capacity. Those restrictions do not apply to restaurants. Face coverings or masks are required at all businesses, in line with the governor's order.

New Market Mayor Winslow Burhans said the governor's order appears to take away some local authority.

"I'm not going to put the town in a situation where we're in conflict [with state law]," Burhans said. "Everybody is going to read that and take that as, they're taking away our authority."

He added, however, he still needed to review it, and would likely confer with Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county's health officer, and Maryland Municipal League (MML) officials.

Hogan reiterated during his press conference that local jurisdictions maintain the authority to keep tougher restrictions in place, though he encouraged them to follow his guidance.

“It’s been very confusing with a patchwork of different people changing rules or not being in alignment with one another," he said.

Meanwhile, the reaction in the local business community was a bit subdued.

Chloe Vetter, a manager at CycleFit, a spin studio on Hughes Ford Road, said the studio had recently renovated in order to fit more bikes in the space with distancing restrictions in place. While increased capacity might help business, Vetter was unsure that was what CycleFit’s clients would actually want.

“We’d rather have our clients healthy and safe,” she said.

Julia Simpson of Players Fitness and Performance (PFP) on Bowmans Farm Road said the gym would have to talk to its members before making any decisions.

"If there’s more than half our population … says we’re not comfortable with that, then we would never want to put anyone in that situation,” Simpson said. "I believe PFP would definitely go with what our community is most comfortable with."

Richard Belles, owner of Cellar Door on North Market Street in Frederick, said he hadn’t put any thought into operating with increased capacity yet.

On Tuesday, Maryland reported 631 new coronavirus infections and 25 deaths. That brings the total to 388,666 confirmed cases and 7,806 deaths since the pandemic began roughly a year ago.

Hogan maintained the state has consistently followed the science when it comes to addressing the pandemic, which is why it is in position to start lifting restrictions.

He pointed out that hospitalizations and the positivity rate are at their lowest levels in months, and Maryland residents are generally good about following masking protocols.

"Each day brings us closer to seeing the light at the end of a very long tunnel," he said.

Maryland has now administered more than 1.6 million doses of coronavirus vaccine and leads the nation in the distribution of the newly approved, single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Production is expected to ramp up significantly before the end of the month and then take off in April and May, according to Hogan, as the three approved manufacturers, Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, have pledged to deliver millions of additional doses.

The governor went on to lift quarantine requirements and other out-of-state travel restrictions while encouraging those who travel out of state to get tested.

He also allowed medical adult day care centers to reopen and gave those facilities the ability to set restrictions and other safety measures.

"I want to make it clear the virus is still with us, and it remains important to continue to take precautions to stay safe," Hogan said. "... We can't let a few bad actors spoil it for the rest of us who have done such a great job. So, let's continue to be smart. We can't afford to undo all of the tremendous progress we have made together."

Staff writers Erika Riley and Steve Bohnel contributed to this report.

Follow Greg Swatek on Twitter: @greg_swatek

(27) comments

Greg F

Well, here we are now a mere 2+ weeks from this article and idiotic comments being posted in defense of all things opened up. Guess what. Virus came back and cases are rising. Derrr. There are people here who told you this would happen, but nooooooo.....you naysayers knew it all, right?

gabrielshorn2013

[thumbup][thumbup][thumbup] GregF. Despite the "opening", we all still need to follow the four basic rules. 1)stay out of crowds 2) keep six feet apart 3)wash your hands frequently and 4) wear a mask. We are NOT back to normal yet folks. Far from it.

threecents

I just looked at the stats. While the number of cases and deaths are trending down from the holidays explosion, they are still around where they were in October. Death rates are actually higher than in October, which surprised me. About 11% of MD is fully vaccinated. I think a lot of people - maybe the governor included - are fooled by the dramatically declining positivity rate of testing, which might simply reflect that more people are getting tested.

vodalone

Sounds like the right move. Not too extreme like TX or MS, but inching forward and that's the point. Once the most vulnerable get vaccinated and hospitalizations drop, impact will decrease. I am disappointed in the number of vaccination doses and sites in the county however, if you look at the map of sites Frederick County has less sites than many of the less populated counties.

shiftless88

I agree with you on this. Primarily because, at least in my experience, locals seem pretty good about masking up. I really hope the people are cooperative with this. If not, then here comes another wave. I am also disappointed at the general rate of vaccinations in MD. That's at least partly on Hogan.

NewMarketParent

Also remember that Frederick County has the lowest percentage of teachers vaccinated in the state.

ma23464

Awe. Poor teachers. What about all of the “essential” workers that have been going to work and doing the same thing since this mess started. The utility workers, trash collection, farmers, grocers and truck drivers that deliver your food deserve to be vaccinated first.

NewMarketParent

Welcome wave 4. It sure is nice to meet you.

FrederickFan

Hogan will own the next surge. Just remember that.

Dwasserba

"...removed capacity restrictions imposed on Maryland businesses because of the pandemic while keeping statewide masking and distancing mandates in place." ?? If you are letting them in to capacity, but distancing, um, where are you putting them?

fnpreader123

Most buildings have plenty of room. I couldn't enter a candy shop downtown last weekend because 4 people were in there. That's ridiculous, they have two rooms, we could have fit 15 people in there while social distancing.

Greg F

Well, this is a fine howdy-do and a big F and U to those who haven't gotten the vaccine and for those who may have underlying conditions. We aren't even on that group yet here in MD while almost everybody else in the US is already. This is NOT the time. I guarantee we will see another surge 2 weeks from effective date. For me, I will go out even less now for anything knowing people just cannot do the right things. I guess Hogan doesn't give a crap now that he's not up for re-election.

fnpreader123

More people are vaccinated now than have caught Covid to begin with. 1 million in Maryland have had at least one shot, and a third of a million cases.

Greg F

Really, FNP...that's your measure? More have died than practically all other causes combined from Covid in the past year. More will. YOu seem to be utterly insensitive to anyone who's lost anyone or anything due to this pandemic.

threecents

Of course there are over 6 million Marylanders, so a huge majority have not been vaccinated or had the disease, so we are not safe yet.

Fredginrickey

[thumbup]

Frayou

“It’s been very confusing with a patchwork of different people changing rules or not being in alignment with one another," he said.

Exactly. To include from himself. So what has changed? Only 10% of the state has received the vaccination. Not sure now is the time to let our guard down. People will become complacent.

Greg F

People already are complacent. I went to a meeting recently and less than half had masks on out of the probably 50 people in the place. I left. I fully agree with the quote from "Men in Black" that "A person is smart, people are dumb..." https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WPMMNvYTEyI

mgoose806

Hogan wants the state workers have places to go to spend the $1,000 that he is giving away for going to work during the Pandemic. Meanwhile, Jan Gardner reviewing the order to determine what would the best political response. They are all alike pandering and self promoting.

MtownRebel

So he lifted SOME of the restrictions but still doesn't want Marylanders at the bar. Who knew the temperance movement was still alive in the 21st century!

C.D.Reid

What do you mean by he "still doesn't want Marylanders at the bar?" Bar sitting is allowed, people just can't be jam packed together standing at it. And that constituents the temperance movement is still alive in the 21st century?

Greg F

Gotta drink that bad?

snallygaster

In case you hadn't received the memo, liquor stores have been open as an essential service since the beginning of the pandemic. Nothing stopping you from getting your drink on.

fnpreader123

Good! Maryland has over 1 million people vaccinated with at least the first dose, and a much smaller 387,319 cases overall.

Greg F

The smaller cases are due to the protective measures we've been taking as a state. So much for that.

Dwasserba

[thumbup]And people are planning trips to other states, which involves the risks inherent with airports.

fnpreader123

Nationwide, this is still true. I don't remember the numbers, but we have surpassed the case numbers already.

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