OCEAN CITY — Maryland took a big step closer to full recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic this week with the lifting of almost all restrictions effective Saturday.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Wednesday, with the key health metrics in the state related to COVID declining to their lowest levels since the beginning of the pandemic and vaccinations continuing at an impressive clip, he was lifting most of the last state directives still in place.
Starting Saturday, all indoor and outdoor venues may resume normal operations and restaurants and bars may also resume typical operations with all remaining capacity and distancing restrictions lifted on indoor and outdoor dining.
The last vestige of the COVID restrictions, a requirement to wear masks indoors at businesses and other facilities, will be lifted as soon as the state reaches the stated goal of having at least 70% of eligible Marylanders receiving at least an initial vaccine. As of Thursday, a little over 65% of Marylanders had received at least a first COVID vaccine, so the mask requirement could be lifted soon.
Hogan cited the continued decline in many of the state’s key health metrics as a reason for lifting nearly all of the Maryland’s restrictions still in place. As of this week, testing positivity rates, hospitalizations and deaths had reached lows not seen since the start of the pandemic, while the vaccination rate continues to soar. As of Wednesday, Worcester County’s positivity rate was at 2.42%, which is slightly below the state’s 2.66%. The county’s seven-day moving average case rate per 100,000 was at 3.01 on May 12 with the statewide average at 8.22. On Jan. 10, the case rate in Worcester County hit a 2021 high of 81.16 with the state at 50.46.
“I’m pleased to report we’re making great progress on COVID-19,” Hogan said at Wednesday’s conference. “Our continued recovery and a return to normal are dependent on two key factors- getting Marylanders vaccinated and continuing to see improvement in our key health metrics.”
Hogan on Wednesday outlined the various restrictions being lifted as of Saturday.
“As a result of these efforts, all of our health metrics continue to show improvement all across the board,” he said. “As a direct result of our incredible pace of vaccinations and our subsequent decline in hospitalizations and positivity rates, today we’re able to take additional actions on our return to normalcy. Effective this Saturday, we’re lifting all restrictions on all outdoor entertainment, sports venues, including ticketed events, as well as all indoor entertainment venues, conventions and other businesses. All restrictions will also be lifted on indoor and outdoor dining. Effective Saturday, all businesses will be able to open at 100% with no restrictions.”
With restaurants no longer needing to socially distance tables at six feet and standing at bars allowed starting Saturday, only the requirement to wear masks indoors, at least when entering a business, remains in place, but that too could soon be lifted.
“The only thing that will remain in place for the time being is the indoor mask requirement, which we will be able to lift as soon as we reach the federal goal of 70% of adults receiving at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.
Hogan said Maryland is moving quicker to full recovery even faster than the goal set by the federal government.
“President Biden set the goal of getting everything back to normal by the Fourth of July,” he said. “Here in Maryland, our goal is to get everything back to normal by Memorial Day.”
Hogan urged the remaining 35% or so of Marylanders still not vaccinated to do so in order to accelerate the final stages of recovery.
“We truly are getting closer to a return to normalcy,” he said. “The fastest way to get rid of our damn masks and put this pandemic behind us once and for all is for every single eligible Marylander to get vaccinated as quickly as possible,” he said.
Locally, Hogan’s announcements on Wednesday were met as welcome news. Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association Executive Director Susan Jones sent out a blast email to members quickly after Wednesday’s press conference.
“All outdoor events, indoor entertainment, conventions, indoor dining, everything, al businesses will be open with no restrictions,” the email reads. “For restaurants, this means you can walk up to a bar and order a cocktail, soda or water, and there is no limit on the number of people at a table. It certainly has been a tumultuous year, but we are moving toward normalcy. Can I get an amen?”
Meanwhile, Delaware Gov. John Carney on Wednesday announced similar easing of restrictions related to COVID. As of Friday, all capacity restrictions inside restaurants, retail stores, gyms, other businesses and houses of worship will be lifted and facilities can use as much capacity as social distancing will allow. Masks will still be required indoors.
Customers must continue to remain seated indoors and outdoors at restaurants and bars unless a plan is approved by the state’s department of health.