Regional Reopening ‘Possible,’ But State Isn’t There Yet, Hogan Says

Drivers urging a swift reopening of Maryland's economy clog Annapolis streets on Saturday. Photo by Melissa Howell/WTOP

Faced with growing pressure to ease restrictions on businesses and social interaction, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said Monday it’s “possible” that parts of the state might see a gradual reopening of commerce and recreation before others.

But he quickly cautioned that Maryland has not reached the point in its battle against COVID-19 where such a move would be prudent.

“You could possibly do things in different regions or different parts of the state,” Hogan told reporters outside Government House, the governor’s residence, on Monday. “But what we don’t want is to have one place open, everybody rushes over there, and then infects that county.”

“So there’s a lot of thought that goes into that,” he added.

Republican members of the House of Delegates urged Hogan on Saturday to dial back restrictions on commerce and recreation in more sparsely populated parts of the state. They said that western counties, the Eastern Shore and Southern Maryland have had sufficiently low coronavirus infection rates that such a move would be warranted.

The GOP lawmakers also expressed a concern that — without relief — many businesses might close permanently.

“We’re all anxious to get our economies opened up as soon as we possibly can if we can do it in a safe way,” Hogan said on Monday. “We’re going to do so in cooperation with our neighbors,” a reference to his ongoing consultations with the mayor of Washington, D.C., and the governor of Virginia.

Hogan has promised to release details of his economic recovery plan later this week.

On Saturday, approximately 150 demonstrators from a newly-formed group, #ReOpenMD, took to the streets of downtown Annapolis to protest the governor’s executive orders.

A follow-up event on Monday in Annapolis appeared to have fizzled.

The push to reopen the economy is playing out across the country, with advocates drawing support from President Trump and various conservative media personalities. One such gathering occurred on Monday in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital.

A Yahoo News/YouGov poll released Monday found that Americans oppose the protests by a margin of three to one. Other polls have shown a majority of Americans favor keeping restrictions on commerce and people’s movements in place.

“I don’t understand what people are thinking,” former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele (R), an MSNBC commentator, said of the protests. “Let the governors manage this crisis.”

“I’m happy for all the people who feel healthy right now until they run into someone who isn’t, because they’re so anxious to do what — to go horseback riding or go to a restaurant?”

Steele, the former head of the Republican National Committee, echoed Hogan’s concern that infection rates could rise as people start to move about.

“You don’t think that — as the weather turns warm — that folks from heavily impacted areas like Prince George’s and Montgomery County and so forth aren’t going to get into their cars and travel there?” he added. “Are you kidding me? And then what do you do?”

In Florida, communities that have reopened their beaches have seen a surge of visitors from neighboring areas where the sand and surf remain off-limits.

In St. Johns County, near Jacksonville, one surfer told a local TV station that “COVID-19 is not here, bro. We’ve been out here the whole time, just having fun, man.”

According to the Florida Department of Health, St. Johns County has had 186 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with four deaths reported as of Friday evening, according to The Miami Herald.

Trump has tweeted support for protesters descending on state capitals demanding that their governors lift restrictions on businesses and individuals’ ability to move freely. In an interview on CNN’s “The Situation Room” early Monday evening, Hogan said Trump is contradicting the guidance of his own administration, which suggests state restrictions remain in place until there have been 14 straight days of declining COVID-19 cases.

“I think it was unfortunate to send out conflicting messages,” Hogan told CNN’s Wolf Blitzer. “The president was kind of sending out messages encouraging people to protest against his own plan.”

Del. Maggie L. McIntosh (D-Baltimore City) said Hogan and his top COVID-19 advisers — particularly Health Secretary Robert R. Neall and Deputy Secretary Fran Phillips — have done “an outstanding job managing this crisis.”

She predicted the governor will continue to be guided by hospitalization rates, ICU use and other key data.

“We just have to follow the science,” she said. “If the science says you can do this, regionally, then I would support it. If the science says you shouldn’t do this regionally, then I think we should, unfortunately, keep to the plan that the governor has laid out.”

Although it has not gotten the publicity that the group clamoring to reopen Maryland has, a coalition of Anne Arundel County-area activists urging Hogan to keep the restrictions in place announced its formation Monday morning.

“Our coalition of grassroots organizations is deeply concerned about the demonstrations that are occurring in Annapolis, pressuring the State government to lift the stay-at-home order and reopen Maryland,” the group, which is calling itself Keep Maryland Safe, said in a statement. “The coalition, which includes the Anne Arundel County NAACP, the Caucus of African American Leaders, Connecting the Dots, March On Maryland, and W.I.S.E., request that Governor Larry Hogan’s office continue to keep Maryland safe by maintaining the stay-at-home order and the state of emergency it enacted in March 2020. We also request that the Governor allow scientists and medical experts to determine when and how Maryland will be reopened.”

Evie Harris, a Baltimore area nurse who is the lead organizer of #ReOpen Maryland, said the organization was pleased with Saturday’s turnout — and the message that demonstrators sent to the state’s leaders.

She dismissed complaints that protesters who fail to wear masks and practice social distancing during their demonstrations put the health care system at risk.

“It’s a spurious argument,” she said. “People smoke and they may get lung cancer. They still go to the hospital. We don’t turn them away. People drive and have accidents. We don’t turn them away.”

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