Mayor Brandon Scott announced that Baltimore City’s existing COVID-19 restrictions will remain in place, despite Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s plans to begin reopening the state. Scott’s executive order went into effect at 6 a.m. on March 12, seven hours before Hogan’s did.
Hogan’s latest executive order lifts all capacity limits at restaurants as long as seating arrangements still adhere to social distancing guidelines. Large indoor and outdoor venues can also now open up to 50% capacity. However, everyone is still required to wear face coverings in public indoor and outdoor locations.
Baltimore City’s restrictions currently cap indoor dining at 25% capacity and outdoor dining at 50% capacity. All indoor and outdoor recreational establishments are capped at 25% capacity.
In a press conference on March 12, Scott explained the city’s decision and urged Baltimore residents to continue social distancing and avoiding large gatherings.
“Although the latest trends in public health data are promising, Baltimore is not in the clear just yet,” Scott said. “We have consistently seen spikes in COVID-19 cases following holidays. It’s not the time to go bar-hopping, it’s not the time to be reckless with your personal activity just because the weather is better and it’s St. Patrick’s Day weekend. We know that can lead to a lot of people dying. You can literally kill someone you love by being irresponsible.”
In a press conference on March 9, Hogan reported that Maryland’s case rate has dropped by more than 76% and its positivity rate has also declined by more than 64%.
Hogan expressed optimism for the future amid Maryland’s declining case rate.
“As we marked one year of grappling with this deadly virus, many of us have been recalling our lasts,” he said. “In the weeks and months ahead, with continued vigilance, together we will instead begin to mark new firsts. Everything won't look exactly the same just yet, and we do need to continue to do the things that keep us safe, but there can be no doubt that we are closer to that light at the end of the tunnel.”
Different jurisdictions, however, still have the power to implement their own guidelines. Mayors in Maryland reported that they were not given any warning of Hogan’s announcement.
Hogan urged other mayors in Maryland to adhere to state guidelines.
“My advice would be that they should follow the state guidance and get in line,” he said. “It’s been very confusing with a patchwork of different people changing rules or not being in alignment with one another.”
Although Baltimore’s case rate is also declining, Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa stated that the city will wait until March 22 to make revisions to the city’s restrictions, since the city only re-evaluates health mandates every month.
Sophomore Alyssa Lee, who has been living in Baltimore since January, acknowledged that cases are going down in Baltimore but expressed concern for the state’s vaccination rate.
“Looking at the statistics from the past few months, I know that there was a spike at the end of January going into February in Maryland, and it’s gone back to that pre-spike level so that’s good news,” she said. “On the other hand, I’m not sure how the vaccine distribution is going in Maryland. I don’t think we’ve reached the herd immunity threshold yet. It’s worrying, but I would probably defer to the public health experts on this one.”
According to the World Health Organization, the herd immunity threshold for COVID-19 is not yet known, since this threshold varies between diseases and more research is still being conducted.
During the press conference, Hogan detailed that Maryland has administered more than 1.5 million vaccines. However, according to the state health department, less than 10% of Marylanders are fully vaccinated.
Junior Lei Tolosa, a resident of Columbia in Howard County, feels that Hogan’s decision to relax all restrictions is happening too early.
“I know that with the vaccines rolling out, people are starting to change their minds and feel that it’s safe to go outside, but it is still too fast,” she said. “A lot of people who have small businesses or own restaurants have been really hit by the pandemic, and it’s hard for Hogan and so many counties to find a balance between implementing restrictions but also allowing people to maintain some sort of economic stability.”
Even though Maryland is opening up, Tolosa stressed that some counties should not follow Hogan’s orders because those areas are more densely populated. However, she stated that people in Howard County are more cautious about their actions.
Lee highlighted her concern for the surrounding community near Hopkins. She emphasized that mayors need to take the different demographics per county into account when making decisions for their own jurisdictions.
“It seems as if he’s trying to make things as they were before COVID, but it doesn’t seem like the right choice now,” she said. “Especially after the party incident, I’m afraid that something like that will happen again and the virus may be transmitted throughout the community and not just among Hopkins.”