Gov. Larry Hogan said on Wednesday that the battle against the coronavirus has progressed to a point at which plans to gradually reopen Maryland’s economy are being formulated.
“Fortunately, because of the early and aggressive actions and because of the extraordinary sacrifices of Marylanders, we are now in a position to move from containment and mitigation to plan the gradual rollout of our recovery phase,” Hogan said at an afternoon news conference at the State House in Annapolis.
“Our numbers are still rising and we’re still heading up that curve — so we’re not quite there yet. But we are seeing positive signs of cautious optimism.”
Hogan said discussions are ongoing with health officials and members of his coronavirus response team about coming up with a plan to reopen the state’s economy. He said the details of the plan will be released next week.
But Hogan cautioned that opening up the state too soon could result in a spike in deaths and hinder economic recovery efforts. Progress is contingent upon Marylanders’ continued compliance with the stay-at-home directive and social distancing practices, he said.
“There are some very real reasons for hope and optimism right now. And there is clearly a light at the end of this tunnel. But exactly how and when we will get to that light is going to be up to each and every one of us.”
Hogan said that today he signed an executive order that will require Marylanders to wear “masks or face coverings when inside any retail establishments — including grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores — or when riding on any form of public transportation in Maryland.” Hogan said the order requires businesses to ensure that their employees wear masks and that social distancing measures are practiced inside their respective establishments. Restaurant staff that interact with customers — including delivery people — also must wear masks. The order will go into effect Saturday at 7 a.m. EDT, Hogan said.
Hogan made note of and applauded several counties that have already issued orders that require their residents to wear masks or face coverings in stores. Hogan mentioned Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Montgomery and Charles counties by name. A similiar mandate goes into effect in Frederick County on Thursday.
Marylanders “may have to become more accustomed” to wearing masks “in order to safely reopen” the state, Hogan said. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo also issued an executive order on Wednesday mandating masks when residents are in public and cannot ensure proper social distancing.
Hogan said the recovery plan will consist of four criteria: expanding testing capabilities, expanding hospital surge capabilities, increased supply of PPE and “building a robust contact tracing operation.” The tracing operation “will enable us to investigate every single positive case and to ensure those patients are isolating during the duration of their illness,” Hogan said.
Hogan is chair of the National Governors Association and has been in frequent contact with the White House about securing federal resources for Maryland during the crisis. Hogan relayed that on Thursday he has a teleconference call scheduled with President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force.
Hogan said that while the federal government has been helpful, more assistance is needed.
“Additional federal action and assistance is critically needed right now if the governors are going to continue leading on the front lines of this battle. Without sufficient federal investment, we will be unable to do all of the things that we’re being asked to do. And states could be forced to confront the prospect of devastating budget reductions to essential services and potential layoffs, which could hinder our abilities to provide necessary services and which could also further prolong the economic recovery and severely limit out our collective efforts to get people back to work.”
Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips urged Marylanders to remain vigilant in the fight against the virus.
“We’re in this for a very long time… We will prevail. We will get past this virus. But right now is not a moment to let up. This is absolutely not a moment to relax. This is a moment to stay at home and to do the things that we all know have been very very difficult to do. But as the governor has said, we are starting to see progress.”
There are 10,032, confirmed cases of Covid-19 in Maryland as of Wednesday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, while 349 people in Maryland have died from the virus.