- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Maryland and Virginia governors on Wednesday announced plans to begin reopening their states’ economies on Friday, but the Greater Washington area will remain locked down for at least two more weeks because of a high concentration of COVID-19 cases.

“Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have the highest number of cases, and they have made it clear that they are not ready to move into stage one,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, said at an afternoon news conference.

Mr. Hogan said the state has reached a 14-day plateau and decline in hospitalizations for coronavirus infections, except in the counties bordering the District of Columbia.

As of Wednesday, Prince George’s had treated more than 10,000 COVID-19 patients and Montgomery County more than 7,200, accounting for almost half of Maryland’s nearly 35,000 cases.

In addition, Prince George’s County has registered 379 coronavirus-related deaths, and Montgomery County 397. Maryland has had a total of 1,748 COVID-19 deaths.

Mr. Hogan said he will lift his stay-at-home order, which he implemented March 30, for most of the state at 5 p.m. Friday.

“The fight against this deadly disease is far from over. But … Maryland and our nation can now at least begin to slowly recover,” he said.

Like his Maryland counterpart, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, said he will implement phase one of his reopening plan Friday, but Northern Virginia’s plan will be delayed for at least two weeks.

“Until we can get the health crises behind us, the economy will never recover,” Mr. Northam said at a press conference. “My emphasis, our administration’s emphasis and, I think really, Virginia’s emphasis is on the safety and well-being of Virginians.

“So we will continue to emphasize that, that will be our focus, but we also realize the economy plays a part, people have lost their jobs, people are making tremendous sacrifices,” the governor said. “So we will all continue to work together to put this health crisis behind us, get it under the best control we can, and that will allow us to move forward with our economic recovery.”

Mr. Northam was joined by elected officials from Arlington, Prince William, Fairfax and Loudoun counties as well as mayors from Alexandria and Falls Church, all of whom expressed support for delaying phase one in Northern Virginia by two weeks.

Northern Virginia’s counties, which are among the state’s most populous and wealthiest jurisdictions, had tallied nearly 12,600 COVID-19 cases as of Wednesday, almost half of the 26,700+ infections recorded throughout the commonwealth.

Additionally, Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties have tallied 447 of the state’s 955 coronavirus deaths.

As Maryland and Virginia move into phase one plans, retail stores will be able to reopen with 50% capacity, as will personal service businesses such as barber shops and hair salons by appointment only. Pet groomers and animal shelters also can reopen.

Houses of worship can conduct religious services, and outdoor services are strongly encouraged. Indoor services will be limited to 50% capacity.

Protocols for social distancing, face masks and regular cleaning remain in effect. Mr. Hogan and Mr. Northam encouraged residents to continue staying home and teleworking as much as possible.

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser extended her stay-at-home order to June 8, citing an increase of COVID-19 cases. The Walter E. Washington Convention Center opened as an alternate care facility Tuesday in anticipation of a surge of patients this month.

Miss Bowser, a Democrat, said the city is not where it needs to be in terms of decreasing community transmission to begin reopening this week, when her order was originally set to expire.

Dr. LaQuandra Nesbitt, director of the D.C. Department of Health, said she is focusing more on trends related to symptom onset to monitor community transmission instead of new daily cases.

“Based on the data, I can revise this order at any time to reflect a phased reopening,” Miss Bowser said at a press conference.

The mayor’s new order also requires face coverings during essential travel and business in the District.

The mask requirement does not apply to children younger than 9, people experiencing homelessness, people with disabilities and people exercising, given that they keep a distance of 6 feet from others.

Miss Bowser also announced a pilot program to allow some locally owned educational and academic retail shops, such as book, music and toy stores, to open for curbside and front-door pickup sales only.

Businesses interested in the program will be able to apply starting Friday. If approved, customers won’t be allowed inside and the businesses will have to share with the city government data about sales, hours and how they have adjusted operations.

D.C. officials said the application will be similar to the process for farmers markets several weeks ago. Miss Bowser said they will use this pilot as a learning opportunity for how to approach reopening.

Next week, the mayor will make announcements about the adjusted budget, which will try to shore up a more than $700 million shortfall.

Mr. Hogan and Mr. Northam issued guidelines last week to allow elective medical and dental procedures to resume.

Mr. Hogan eased restrictions that allowed Marylanders to participate in golfing, fishing, boating, tennis, camping and similar outdoor activities. Maryland schools won’t be back in session at least until this fall, which will be included in phase two and three of the governor’s plan.

On Monday, 11 Department of Motor Vehicle centers will be able to reopen across Virginia, except in Northern Virginia, to perform a handful of select services by appointment only.

Mr. Northam said the DMVs will fulfill requests for original driver’s licenses, original vehicle registrations, disabled parking permits and vital records with customers waiting in their cars.

• Sophie Kaplan can be reached at skaplan@washingtontimes.com.

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