Governor Eases Restrictions, Says State Likely To Lift Stay-At Home Order Next Week

OCEAN CITY — While it wasn’t the advance to stage one of the state’s Roadmap to Recovery plan most expected, Gov. Larry Hogan this week eased restrictions on many outdoor activities including boating, golf, fishing and camping and the opening of state-owned beaches and parks.

When Hogan announced his Roadmap to Recovery two weeks ago, he laid out a plan to reopen the state safely and gradually over three distinct phases. The recovery plan was based on four essential pillars including expanded testing capabilities, an increase in hospital surge capacity, the acquisition of sufficient personal protection equipment (PPE) and a significant improvement in the state’s contact tracing ability, or the ability to connect the dots between those who have contracted or tested positive for COVID-19 and those with whom they have been in contact.

In a press conference on Wednesday, Hogan said Maryland has and will continue to check off those four all-important boxes. The second part of the state’s recovery equation is seeing the numbers trend in the right direction. Reaching the recovery plan’s first stage would rely on a stabilization of a handful of key indicators including the number of hospitalizations, the number of intensive care unit (ICU) admissions and the number of reported deaths attributed to COVID-19 in Maryland.

Hogan said when those numbers trended in a positive direction consistently for at least 14 days, the Maryland could move into the low-risk stage one of the recovery plan aimed at low-risk quality of life improvements and potentially lifting the stay-at-home order. On Wednesday, Hogan said the four basic building blocks of the recovery plan were being reached and the numbers in certain key indicators appeared to be trending in the right direction, but Maryland was not quite ready to enter stage one.

Instead, he threw a bone of sorts to state residents in the form of relaxing some of the restrictions on certain outdoor activities and areas including golf, tennis, recreational boating and fishing, camping, and a limited use of certain state parks among others.

Hogan also eased restrictions on many elective surgeries and procedures including medical screenings and other tests that have been prohibited for several weeks. Hogan acknowledged many Marylander are clamoring to return to jobs and reopen businesses, but while the numbers aren’t quite there yet in his opinion, some quality of life improvements are possible now. His ease on many of the restrictions on outdoor activities became effective early Thursday morning.

“I realize that these are only small steps and that they may be of little comfort to those who are out of work and struggling,” he said. “But it is thanks to all of you and your incredible sacrifices that we are making great progress. We are indeed flattening the curve and we are preparing to launch our reopening plan in order to safely get people back to work, to safely get our small businesses back open again and get our economy back on track so that Maryland and our nation can defeat this virus and come back stronger than ever.”

Hogan emphasized despite the easing of restrictions on certain activities, the stay-at-home order remains in place and other directives related to social distancing and crowd size limitations must be adhered to in order to move on to the next phase.

“We knew if Marylanders adhered to the directives, I was hopeful the numbers would start to plateau,” he said. “We’re starting to see a leveling off in these encouraging numbers. If these trends continue next week, we will be able to lift the stay-at-home order and enter stage one of our recovery plan.”

Hogan urged Marylanders to stay the course and continue safe practices to allow for the expedition of the phased recovery plan.

“Marylanders have made several sacrifices and because of that, thousands of lives have been saved,” he said. “While we still need several more days of these numbers trending in the right direction, that are things we can do safely now in advance of stage one.”

Among the things the governor is now allowing include opening state-owned beaches and parks. Outdoor exercise such as walking, jogging, running, swimming and fishing are allowed, but social distancing must be followed and the prohibition on social gatherings must be strictly followed. The use of chairs, blankets and picnics are still prohibited in the state parks and beaches.

Recreational boating including motorized and non-motorized vessels and personal watercraft are now allowed with some limitations. Boaters must be with immediate family members or people with whom they reside and no more than 10 people can be on a boat at one time. Boats are still prohibited from docking at restaurants and bars. Marinas can be reopened to recreational boaters and pump-out stations can resume operations, but all of the Maryland Departments of Health and Commerce guidelines must be adhered to.

Recreational fishing including catch-and-release are allowed, but the same group size and immediate family member restrictions connected to recreational boating apply. Fishing from state-owned docks and piers is allowed, with the same social distancing requirements in place. Fishing tournaments are still prohibited and all normal rules and regulations regarding seasons, creel limits and gear restrictions remain in place.

About The Author: Shawn Soper

Alternative Text

Shawn Soper has been with The Dispatch since 2000. He began as a staff writer covering various local government beats and general stories. His current positions include managing editor and sports editor. Growing up in Baltimore before moving to Ocean City full time three decades ago, Soper graduated from Loch Raven High School in 1981 and from Towson University in 1985 with degrees in mass communications with a journalism concentration and history.