- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 1, 2020

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday the state can move to phase 3 of reopening due to steady improved health metrics about coronavirus cases.

Effective 5 p.m. Friday, all businesses can reopen in the state. Movie theaters and live entertainment venues will be able to open at 50% capacity, or up to 100 people for indoor spaces or up to 250 people for outdoor spaces. All retail stores and houses of worship can increase from 50% to 75% capacity.

“We continue to be in much better shape than the nation and better than most states across the country,” Mr. Hogan, a Republican, said at a news conference. “And while it is absolutely critical to remain vigilant as we battle this deadly virus, it is also important that we continue to fight to protect and improve our economy and the health of our small business community and our struggling Maryland families by continuing to push to safely reopen our economy and get more people safely back to work.”

Although Mr. Hogan approved the next phase of reopening, he said the law still empowers individual jurisdictions to dictate when businesses and schools can open. Maryland entered phased 2 of reopening on June 3.

The statewide positivity rate was 3.39% as of Tuesday and the rate has remained below 5% for 68 consecutive days and under 4% since Aug. 8, he said, also noting that hospitalization rates and ICU levels are down.

State health department data shows the coronavirus has sickened more than 108,800 residents in Maryland and killed more than 3,600.

Ahead of Labor Day weekend, Mr. Hogan shared the most common activities for people who tested positive for coronavirus since mid-July. Family gatherings secured the top spot at 41% followed by house parties and outdoor events at 19%.

“I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into stage three does not mean that this crisis is behind us and remind them that we must remain vigilant so that we can keep Maryland open for business,” he said.

Also on Tuesday, the Maryland State Board of Elections voted to require school systems that have not developed plans for in-person instruction for this year to go back and reevaluate those plans.

Of the 24 school jurisdictions, 16 of them developed and submitted plans that included in-person instruction for this year while eight of them did not submit plans with intentions of bringing kids back to classrooms. Last week, Mr. Hogan announced all school systems can safely reopen with some in-person instruction.

This week, all students in public schools in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, which have the highest number of coronavirus cases in the state, began their first day of school online. Both counties intend to complete the fall academic term with remote learning only.

Meanwhile, in an effort to boost contact tracing efforts, Maryland is partnering with Apple and Google to use Exposure Notification Express, an app that is designed to help public health officials more quickly alert residents about possible COVID-19 exposures.

The State Board of Elections on Tuesday also informed Mr. Hogan that it has sent mail-in ballot applications to every Maryland voter, a task the governor asked the board to complete weeks ago.

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