Gov. Larry Hogan said on Wednesday that the order he gave in April requiring Marylanders to wear masks or face coverings when visiting retail establishments or riding public transportation will be expanded to include the public spaces of all businesses as well as outdoor public areas effective Friday evening at 5 p.m.
“Based upon what is now solidly backed by the contract tracing data and at the unanimous recommendation of our coronavirus recovery team-not only all of our doctors and scientists but also our business labor leaders-effective this Friday July 31-we are expanding the current statewide masking order requiring now the wearing of masks or face coverings in the public spaces of all businesses across the state. Face coverings will also be required at outdoor public areas whenever it is not possible to maintain physical distancing,” Hogan said at a news conference at the State House in Annapolis.
Hogan added: “This expansion of the masking order is an action that is both fact-based, apolitical, and solidly grounded in science. And while it can be an inconvenience, especially in the heat-wearing masks is the single best mitigation strategy that we have to fight the virus.”
Coronavirus cases are surging nationally and have experienced a slight uptick in Maryland-particularly among Marylanders under age 40. The state’s positivity rate is 4.77%, which is better than that of most states in the country but is still higher than usual for Maryland.
Hogan relayed recent data from the state’s contact tracing operation which identified what activities Marylanders who tested positive for the virus had engaged in. It said that 44% attended a family gathering, 23% attended house parties and 21% participated in outdoor activities.
Hogan said that the slight increase in Maryland’s COVID hospitalization rate, which now includes 571 patients-145 of whom occupy ICU beds-does not warrant serious concern but is reason enough to keep the state at Stage 2 of the recovery process for the meantime.
Hogan emphasized that Maryland’s ability to stay open will depend on its residents adhering to recommended safety guidelines, such as practicing social distancing. The governor urged Marylanders to cooperate with contact tracers so that the state can keep track of positive cases.
Hogan said that today he ordered the Department of Health to issue a public health advisory aimed at discouraging travel to and from states that have a positivity rate of 10% or higher. Those states include: Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska and Idaho.
“To the extent possible we advise you to postpone or cancel travel to these areas until their positivity rates decline. If you absolutely must travel to one of these locations, you are strongly advised to immediately get tested for COVID-19 and to self-quarantine while awaiting test results.”
At Wednesday’s news conference, Hogan announced that Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips is retiring after 2 years on the job and will be succeeded by Assistant Secretary of Health Dr. Jinlene Chan.
There are 86,285 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as Wednesday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 3,347 people in Maryland have died from the virus.