This story was updated at 6:50 p.m. on Sept. 1, 2020, to include a statement from Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich.
Maryland will move into Phase 3 of reopening at 5 p.m. on Friday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday afternoon.
Under the third phase, all businesses can reopen. But counties can still keep certain restrictions in place if they are not following the state’s timetable. Montgomery County, which has been harder hit by COVID-19 than most of the state, has moved through its reopening phases at a slower pace.
“As we begin to move into stage 3, the law still empowers individual counties to make decisions that are more restrictive regarding the timing of stage 3 reopenings in their own individual jurisdictions,” Hogan said during a press conference. “I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into stage 3 does not mean that this crisis is behind us and remind them that we must remain vigilant so we can keep Maryland open for business.”
In a statement sent to Bethesda Beat Tuesday evening, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich wrote that Hogan’s announcement “has again taken us by surprise.”
“Although I want to see our community open as quickly as possible, we also must proceed with care. We will continue to follow the data and science in Montgomery County, as we have done every day throughout the pandemic,” Elrich said. “We are averaging about 70 cases per day, and yesterday we had 97 cases — those numbers are concerning because they’re higher than they were a few weeks ago.
“Because we did not receive advance notice of the Governor’s decision, we need time to review the Governor’s orders to determine the best way forward. We will do this over the next few days to determine the best way to move forward for our residents and businesses while protecting the public health.”
Hogan said that movie theaters and live entertainment venues will be able to reopen at 50% capacity, or up to 100 people at indoor venues or 250 people at outdoor venues with health and safety guidelines.
Retail shops, churches and other houses of worship will be able to increase their capacity from 50% to 75%.
The state is also collaborating with Apple and Google to use Exposure Notifications Express, an app designed to “help public health officials more quickly provide notifications for residents about potential COVID-19 exposure,” Hogan said.
When asked for more details on how the app will be used, Hogan said he did not immediately have more information.
The state’s contact tracers have found that the top activity of people who tested positive since mid-July — 41% of those interviewed by tracers — was attending a family gathering, Hogan said.
The next highest activity, at 19%, was house parties and outdoor events.
“We tend to feel safe when we’re around our family and friends and in fact, that’s when we let our guard down and we don’t do the things that we do when we’re out in stores and out in places where we’re actually being careful and following good advice,” Hogan said.
Maryland Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schulz, who also spoke at Tuesday’s press conference, said the state has provided nearly $175 million in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses through several COVID-19 emergency relief programs.
She said the state has worked with 13 advisory groups representing various industries that helped the state create guidelines and best practices for businesses as they began to reopen, including staggering employee shifts and installing signage and barriers.
“Our unemployment rate is below the national average at 7.6% and falling. All Maryland businesses can safely reopen,” Schulz said. “We have stayed strong during this pandemic and we will remain vigilant. We are, in fact, keeping Maryland open for business.”
This story will be updated.
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.