Ball says Howard County is not ready to fully implement the first phase of reopening plan


Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said on Friday that the county is not ready to fully implement the first phase of Gov. Larry Hogan’s plan to reopen businesses shuttered by restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus.

The first phase of the plan goes into effect  Friday at 5 p.m. EDT. However, it gives county and local governments considerable flexibility to implement their own guidelines for reopening.

“When the governor announced the start of Phase 1 on Wednesday he went farther than previously laid out in his April plan. Specifically by allowing indoor religious gatherings of up to 250 people and by reopening all retail. And while it is my desire to have every business in Howard County open and thriving as soon as possible-my first responsibility is always to the health and safety of our Howard County residents. And based upon the data indicators we are tracking and with our health department-we have identified what we could responsibly reopen,” Ball (D) said in an online press gaggle.

Ball outlined a modified plan for reopening the county. He first announced the plan in a press release on Thursday evening. It is similar to plans introduced in other jurisdictions in which elected leaders have said they are not ready to fully implement Phase I. Those jurisdictions include Baltimore, Anne Arundel, and Frederick counties. Baltimore City and Montgomery and Prince George’s counties have extended their stay-at-home orders and are not yet lifting restrictions. Carroll an Harford County officials voted Thursday to fully implement Phase I. In Ocean City many hotels and resorts are expected to soon reopen after the city voted to lift lodging restrictions on Thursday. Last week the city lifted restrictions on boardwalk use provided that social distancing measures are practiced.

Ball said retail businesses “may open for curbside pick-up and delivery only.” Ball specifically noted that  “all stores at the Mall in Columbia and the shops at Savage Mill” are included in that restriction.

Ball said Hogan’s order which allows many retail businesses to operate at up to 50 percent capacity, is not strict enough. However, Ball said some businesses, such as, “pet adoption centers, pet groomers, and car washes,” will be allowed to provide indoor customer service at 5o percent capacity. Ball said indoor religious gatherings will be limited to ten people. Ball said barbershops and hair salons can reopen with service by appointment only and with only one customer admitted at a time can. Hogan’s plan also requires patrons of hair salons and barbershops to make an appointment.

Ball said outdoor recreational activities such as archery and horseback riding will be allowed provided that participants wear and masks and practice social distancing. Last week Hogan eased restrictions on outdoor recreational activities. Ball said manufacturing may resume so long as state guidelines are followed. “While Howard County is certainly not ready to fully reopen under the governor’s Phase I, we are pleased to take these steps to begin safely reopening our economy,” Ball said.

Ball said the county will closely monitor the number of cases and hospitalizations to determine if it is necessary at some point to reinstate restrictions. Since March 15, the county with a population of 325,000 has had 1,315 positive cases and 44 people have died from the virus, Ball said.

Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty praised Ball’s plan for reopening the county.

“Overall, I am pleased to see businesses began to open up. The decision to open or close is a tough one. I certainly understand that the dilemma the county executive is in,” McClarty told in an email on Friday. “Yet, I also understand the disappointment, anger, and anxiety faced by those businesses that cannot open. While we may want all businesses opened at the same time, not all businesses operate in the same manner and thus we cannot take a one-size-fits-all approach. From conversations with the County Executive’s office, he is trying to balance business and economic viability with public health and safety. Hopefully, if we can continue to adhere to various public health directives we can get open sooner rather than later.”