The first phase of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to reopen businesses shuttered by restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus has proceeded with varying degrees of success, and confusion, according to business leaders interviewed Monday.
The first phase of the plan went into effect on Friday at 5 p.m. EDT. It gave local government broad flexibility to determine how and when they reopen. Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties are included among the jurisdictions that have decided to extend their stay-at-home orders and are not yet lifting restrictions. Ocean City and Talbot and Carroll counties are included among the jurisdictions that have decided to fully implement Phase I. Howard and Frederick’s counties have decided to implement a modified version of Phase I.
“Phase 1 reopening reflects a very cautious and deliberate plan to get businesses opening and running in a manner that is safe for patrons and business owners alike,” said Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty in an email to MarylandReporter.com. “I believe we see in some instances, the plan moving along at an appropriate speed and in other instances, there will be some businesses that can open that are not. We also see some businesses that are allowed to open but for who the restrictions don’t make it economically viable to open.
McClarty said one barber with two haircut establishments told him that that he decided not to reopen the shops because of the restriction imposed by Howard County Executive Calvin Ball that limits service in barbershops and hair salons to one customer at a time.
“He stated he could understand the directives from a public health standpoint but as a business person, it didn’t help him to open as it was not worth his time to see one client while 7 other chairs in his shop go empty. He also cited the need for leeway in the allowance of additional patrons in his shop in select instances such as times when a mom brings in two sons who are minors to obtain a haircut. He stated he could work all day and still not pay his rent.”
Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said the implementation of Phase I has been “slightly confusing.”
“Stage One’s rollout could best be described as slightly confusing. Governor Hogan’s order allowed County governments to further interpret his decisions to best suit their circumstances. As a result, several counties took a far slower path toward reopening than others.”
Weldon elaborated on that point.
“In Frederick County, County Executive Jan Gardner decided that personal services such as barbershops and hair salons should not open despite being granted that authority under the Governor’s order. Also, we now have neighboring counties like Carroll County and Frederick County under substantially different conditions.
“The Carroll County Commissioners decided to follow the Hogan Stage One reopening, while Frederick County is pursuing a slower path. A great example is the Town of Mount Airy. A significant portion of the town falls within Carroll County, while across the street, residents and businesses claim a Frederick County address. You can see where businesses, faced with these conflicting directives, might be confused by how this is all supposed to work.”
Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Gigi Godwin, like Weldon, said the rollout of Phase I has been confusing.
“While we applaud the cooperation shown by our state and county government leaders, our businesses need more clarity on not only the government metrics for reopening but also on the best safety practices for different workplace situations,” Godwin said in a statement to MarylandReporter.com. “It is unlikely that a “one size fits all” approach to reopening the state will achieve the desired goal of balancing the competing concerns of safeguarding our public health as well as our economy.”
Del. Brian Chisholm (R-Anne Arundel) expressed frustration that in his county, County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), has decided to maintain many of the restrictions that were in place during the state-imposed stay-at-home order.
“He (Pittman) kept us in the same posture as we were before any of the restrictions were lightened up by the governor on Wednesday.”
Chisholm said those restrictions include prohibitions on outdoor restaurant seating and indoor religious worship at congregations. Chisholm said both religious leaders and restaurant owners have approached him with complaints about the restrictions.
Chisholm was included among several lawmakers who attended the estimated 300-person rally against COVID-19 restrictions that was held in Annapolis on Friday afternoon.
Chisholm said the consequences could be dire if the state does not fully reopen in the near future.
“We are running headlong into a very serious financial state crisis if we don’t open up everybody soon. The lack of revenue going into that state budget is going to have serious negative effects on many of the programs that we currently are able to run.”