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Maryland could start first stage of reopening next week

Maryland's coronavirus case numbers are trending in the right direction, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Wednesday, and the first phase of the state's plan to reopen could begin as soon as next week.

Overall COVID-19 hospitalizations have decreased slightly in the past week, and the number of intensive care admissions has plateaued for the past eight days, Hogan said. 

“If these trends continue into next week, we will be ready to lift the stay-at-home order" and begin the first tier of the reopening process, he said. 

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Under the plan, businesses could begin curbside service, smaller retail stores would open, and limited activities such as outdoor gym classes and small outdoor religious gatherings could resume. Public schools plan to stay closed for the rest of the academic year.

Hogan said no decisions have been made yet, and everything will depend on whether the current trends continue.

Still, he said the state has enough hospital capacity and supply of personal protective equipment that elective surgeries will begin resuming "at the discretion of local hospitals and providers."

Hogan also said he will lift the ban on certain "low risk" outdoor recreation activities beginning Thursday morning. 

"Outside activity is safer than inside activity," Hogan said.

"Golf, tennis, boating, fishing, camping and other activities" will be allowed to resume, he said. The state is also opening "closed functions at state parks, including all state beaches, as well as state playgrounds at state parks."

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Local governments will have the ability to take similar actions at their own discretion, he said.

Still, Hogan emphasized that "all of this is predicated on people taking personal responsibility" and continuing to follow the guidelines on physical distancing, wearing a mask whenever possible, and avoiding crowds of more than 10 people.

Hogan said that he spoke Tuesday with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) as well as D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D). He said the region's leaders have "great cooperation," but noted different areas will open at different times, especially since Virginia and Maryland have rural regions with fewer cases of the virus and D.C. does not.

Northam said Virginia will start to reopen businesses May 15, but his initial stage is more aggressive than Maryland's. Virginia will also allow local governments to make their own decisions, so certain counties in Northern Virginia that are harder hit may need to increase restrictions.

Bowser on Wednesday said D.C. residents are still under a stay-at-home order, and had no updates on when she would lift restrictions also set to expire May 15.

Updated at 6:03 p.m.