ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland will ease restrictions on restaurants and other businesses later this week, Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday, citing improving COVID-19 health metrics and increasing vaccinations.
Starting Friday at 5 p.m., capacity limits will be lifted on outdoor and indoor dining at restaurants and bars, though customers will still need to be seated and distanced, the governor said. Capacity limits also will be lifted for retail businesses, religious facilities, personal services like hair and nail salons and indoor recreation establishments like casinos and bowling alleys.
“With the pace of vaccinations rapidly rising and our health metrics steadily improving, the lifting of these restrictions is a prudent positive step in the right direction and an important part of our economic recovery," Hogan said at a news conference.
Maryland's statewide mask mandate will remain in effect. It requires face coverings at any public indoor facility, including retail establishments, fitness centers, grocery stores, pharmacies, personal service establishments. Masks also are required in the public spaces of all public and private businesses across the state, and when using public transportation.
“I want to make it clear that the virus is still with us, and it remains important to continue to take precautions to stay safe,” Hogan said.
Larger outdoor and indoor venues will be able to expand to 50% capacity. That includes conference halls, wedding venues, theaters and sporting arenas like Camden Yards, where the Baltimore Orioles baseball team plays.
Hogan said the Orioles have been in discussions with the state heath department and the Maryland Stadium Authority about having spectators at games. As for the team's home opener on April 8, Hogan said they would be able to go to 50% capacity with social distancing and masking.
“They may not want to go to that level, but that’s going to be the limit," Hogan said.
Local officials will not have to loosen restrictions in line with the state limits, but Hogan urged the state's 24 jurisdictions to follow the state's lead to avoid a confusing patchwork of regulations.
The Republican governor cited continuing improvements in health metrics for easing the restrictions.
For example, hospitalizations have dropped 59% from nearly 2,000 to 792, the lowest since Nov. 10. Hogan also said the state has completed more than 8 million COVID-19 tests and more than 1.6 million vaccines, including more than 250,000 in the last seven days. He said the state is averaging 36,258 shots a day, and more than half of the state's residents over the age of 65 have been vaccinated.
“In January, all 24 of our jurisdictions were in the federal red zone for case rates. For several weeks now, we have had zero counties in the red zone,” Hogan said.
Maryland has reported a total of 388,666 confirmed cases of COVID-19 during the pandemic, with 631 more cases reported on Tuesday. The state has had 7,806 deaths, with 25 more reported Tuesday.