by Hannah Lee ‘21
Gov. Larry Hogan announced March 9 that Maryland is moving forward with reopening the state, inciting a mixed response within the public and amongst health officials. Hogan outlined that restrictions on businesses, such as restaurants, gyms, clothing stores, and bars, would be lifted to allow operation at full capacity, which is a significant development in Hogan’s handling of the virus thus far. Large venues like theaters, concert halls, and wedding venues, however, are still required to run at 50-percent capacity. The statewide mask mandate will also remain in place, as well as indoor distancing measures.
Hogan defended the decision by stating that Maryland has administered over one million vaccinations to citizens, with the percentage of positive cases having been under 5 percent over the past few weeks. Upon hearing Hogan’s announcement, health experts warned that rushing a full reopening is risky. They believe it is safer to wait until more vaccines are distributed and to be wary of the number of cases still present, especially because the current 7-day average of 1,034 cases is about equal to the 7-day average in early November of 2020, right before the virus’ spike in the winter. While some business owners are thrilled at this news and eager to reopen, many are still unprepared and uncomfortable with the safety metrics of it all. Nevertheless, business and health experts alike agree that this move was sudden and unexpected considering Hogan’s more vigilant approach early on in the pandemic..
While some counties like Washington County are choosing to follow Hogan’s outlines entirely, others, such as Montgomery County and Prince George’s County, are practicing caution, choosing to wait before pursuing a full reopening. Montgomery County will continue to lift restrictions and slowly increase indoor capacity in businesses over the next few weeks. For instance, retail and businesses may now operate at no more than 50-percent capacity, outdoor gatherings can have a max of 50 people, and indoor gatherings may have a max of 25 people. More changes which can be found on Montgomery County’s official website under its ‘Reopening’ tab.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich openly opposed Hogan’s new health guidelines, expressing his concern that prematurely opening places like restaurants and movie theaters, which will inevitably lead to people taking off their masks to eat, will lead to a rise in cases. Elrich also stated that Hogan had not consulted county executives for months and believes his motives for rushing the ropening are political, in order to appease his Republican voters under the possibility of running for president in the future.
“We haven’t been given an opportunity to give input or express concerns,” stated Elrich in a zoom press conference. Regardless of the new guidelines in place and the promise of a somewhat normal summer around the corner, health officials remain adamant in reminding everyone that citizens, young, old, vaccinated, or not vaccinated should continue to be safe and considerate as the weather warms.