Credit: Darrow Montgomery/file

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is looking to remove capacity limits on indoor and outdoor dining, along with other businesses and activities, on Friday, March 12 at 5 p.m. A number of health experts think it’s a bad idea. And whatever Maryland does impacts neighboring D.C. Maryland will be the first in the region to significantly roll back restrictions. 

However, local jurisdictions in Maryland have the authority to keep restrictions in place, and officials are weighing whether to do so. Many say they were blindsided by the announcement.

Hogan cited recent improvements to health metrics when he announced easing restrictions on bars, restaurants, religious institutions, gyms, casinos, and more. Masking and social distancing will still be required for these businesses and establishments. Larger indoor and outdoor sites like concert venues and sporting arenas will have to keep cap capacity at 50 percent. 

“Our case rate per 100,000 has dropped by more than 76 percent to 12.9,” he said on Tuesday. “Our positivity rate has declined by more than 64 percent to 3.4.” While Maryalnd has seen a significant decrease, cases are still higher than the summer peak. The former director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention during the Trump administration, Robert Redfield, joined Hogan at his press conference.

“The time is right,” said Hogan. Some experts don’t agree with the governor. 

“I worry about the dramatic steps taken,” Boris Lushniak, dean of the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told the Post. “Public health, in general, is warning everybody that it’s not over. . . . The signal this gives is as if things have already turned the corner.” 

The coronavirus variants could hobble the D.C. region’s recovery efforts, for example. Cases caused by variants have been confirmed in the District, Maryland, and Virginia.   

Fox 5 reached out to neighboring counties who say they were not given details ahead of time. “We are reviewing what the governor announced. We don’t get an advance copy of his announcement and hear it at the same time as anyone else does,” said the public information office for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services.

At the start of the pandemic, regional leaders said they’d try and work in tandem with one another around coronavirus restrictions. The virus doesn’t listen to borders, and many Maryand and Virginia residents work in D.C. For example, 75 percent of D.C.’s health care workers live in neighboring states. A year into the pandemic, the cohesive approach has mostly fallen by the wayside. 

The D.C. region has worked somewhat collaboratively on the vaccine rollout. Recently, Hogan—along with Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam—asked the federal government to vaccinate federal workers like mass transit employees who live in their jurisdictions. However, the federal government denied the request.  

— Amanda Michelle Gomez (tips? agomez@washingtoncitypaper.com)

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