Governor Larry Hogan announced that Maryland is moving into Stage 3 of the Roadmap to Recovery on Friday at 5 p.m. Pointing to improving health metrics, Hogan said that Maryland is ready to launch forward. Despite this progress, Hogan encouraged people to remain vigilant because the pandemic is far from over.
What Does Stage 3 Mean?
Under Stage 3, movie and performance theaters can reopen with health and safety guidelines in place. Theaters can open at 50% capacity or have up to 100 people indoors and 250 people outdoors.
Retail stores and houses of worship may increase capacity from 50% to 75%.
Similar to Stages 1 and 2, Stage 3 will be implemented gradually and is subject to local restrictions. At this time, there are no changes for restaurants. Food establishments are still operating at 50% capacity.
Per the updated executive order from Governor Hogan, outdoor entertainment venues (live performances, motion pictures, etc.) can open at 50% capacity or with a maximum of 250 people. According to Ocean City Special Events Director Frank Miller, this 250 person stipulation is new for Stage 3. This could present an opportunity for the local business community to host events in the fall.
The statewide positivity rate is 3.36%. The positivity rate has remained under 5% for 69 days and under 4% for 25 days. Currently, 370 people are hospitalized. This figure is down more than 77% from its peak over 120 days ago.
Reaction from Movie Theaters
Movie theaters are one of the last businesses to reopen in Maryland. Believe it or not, it’s been nearly six months since theaters have been open. Throughout the summer, the Town of Ocean City and the Fox Sun and Surf welcomed visitors to Drive-in movies. While the resurrection of drive-ins has been successful, business owners and movie lovers are ready to get back inside.
David Jeffers, general manager of Flagship Cinemas Ocean City is excited to reopen. “We have been on pins and needles while we watch the rest of the nation open up. We are all family here, so it’s been like being separated from family. People are ready to move on and put this behind us,” Jeffers said. He added that he was anticipating this announcement, especially since Maryland coronavirus metrics are trending in the right direction.
When the theater reopens this Friday, Jeffers will ensure that employees are assigned one task, and one task only, in an effort to limit cross-contamination. “Typically, one person can do the register and make concessions. Now, I’ll only have one person handling the cash, and one person making popcorn,” Jeffers explained. There will also be social distancing in the theater. When purchasing tickets online, people are automatically placed three seats away on the left and right from other parties.
Vicki Graff, executive assistant at Fox Theaters, is also ready to welcome patrons back. “We eagerly anticipated this announcement. We were hopeful that the positive statistics could give the governor the confidence to allow us to reopen safely,” Graff said. Similar to Flagship Cinemas, capacity is limited and social distancing is mandated. Drive-in movies and curbside popcorn have been successful initiatives for the theater and will continue Thursdays-Sundays.
Ocean City Mask Requirement Extended
In anticipation of large crowds for Labor Day weekend, Ocean City Mayor Rick Meehan announced the extension of the Boardwalk mask mandate. Face coverings are required from 8 a.m. to 2 a.m. daily. The extension will keep the ordinance in effect until at least September 30. Those who need a mask can visit the information booth on Caroline Street from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. daily through Labor Day and on Fridays and Saturdays only after Labor Day.
The governor’s remarks came on the heels of a Maryland State Board of Education meeting. The meeting was held in response to Governor Hogan’s briefing last week, in which he urged school systems to open for some in-person instruction. The board decided that for K-12 students, 3.5 hours, not six, of live instruction per day will be mandated. The board determined that school systems must submit reopening plans to the Maryland Department of Education (MSDE) by the third week of November.
These actions have prompted mixed reactions. Teachers’ union leaders are commending the board for allowing school systems to continue with their virtual learning plans. Concurrently, Hogan is praising the board for mandating the submission of reopening plans.
Teachers’ Union Reaction
Cheryl Bost, president of the teachers’ union, responded to the board’s decision in a statement Tuesday morning. “We appreciate that the State Board of Education rejected Superintendent Salmon’s last-minute proposal to rip up local school schedules in a matter of weeks without thought for the confusion, stress, and chaos that would ensue,” Bost said. “The conversation at today’s State Board of Education meeting would have been useful months ago; having it today, after the school year has begun in many areas, is incredibly out of touch with the realities that educators, parents, and students are dealing with every day…While this gives districts time to meet new standards, we are also deeply concerned with discussions of looking to move to expanding in-person learning later this year without also expanding resources or measures to protect the health and safety of educators and students.”
Governor Hogan Reaction
During his press conference, Hogan mentioned the “hysteria” and “pushback” that ensued after his briefing last Thursday. He said that he is “not ordering anyone to do anything” and that school systems can make decisions themselves. He said that the announcement authorizing all districts to reopen was not late and that school systems have time to change course. Hogan said, “basically saying the dog ate my homework, and we’re not going to reopen for the entire year is unacceptable, and today the state board of education agreed.” The governor strongly believes that school systems should consider reopening after the first marking period.
Governor Hogan discussed contact tracing efforts, one of the key components of the Roadmap to Recovery. Officials can now pinpoint specific activities and locations from which people are contracting Covid-19. The latest tracing data shows that 41% of people who contracted Covid-19 attended family gatherings, while 19% attended house parties and outdoor events. Working outside of the home remains a high-risk activity. Those who work outside of the home account for 55% of Covid-19 cases. Whether you are a healthcare worker or do not even face the public, you are at risk. Healthcare workers and non-public facing workers make up 24% and 21% of cases, respectively.
The governor also announced a new Covid-19 exposure app. Maryland is working in collaboration with Apple and Google to notify residents of potential Covid-19 exposure and provide them with more information.
To read Governor Hogan’s amended executive order, click here.
You can watch the full press conference here.