“Our goal is to get back to normal by Memorial Day,” he said.
The moves, which come as the number of coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continues to fall in the state, will make Maryland the first in the region to drop its capacity restrictions and indoor mask mandate.
Hogan’s executive order, which keeps in effect the state of emergency he declared in March 2020, will lift the 50 percent capacity restriction on restaurants and all other businesses that was put in place two months ago, allowing them to return to full capacity and to do away with the six-foot social distancing requirement.
Hogan said indoor and outdoor venues — which include conventions and all outdoor entertainment, arts and sports venues, including ticketed events — also will be free of capacity restrictions beginning Saturday.
Mask restrictions will remain in place until the vaccination threshold is reached. More than 65 percent of the state’s adult residents have received at least one dose so far, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The seven-day average of new reported cases per 100,000 residents in Maryland, Virginia and the District has dropped to the single digits, according to The Washington Post’s tracker. While Maryland and Virginia have experienced a 19 percent and 12 percent decline, respectively, in hospitalizations in the past week, the District has seen a 2 percent increase.
Leaders in the District and Virginia also plan to lift restrictions, but have provided later timelines for the moves. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said earlier this week that she plans to lift capacity and other restrictions on businesses and public venues by May 21. She said entertainment and sports venues in the city will be able to return to full capacity on June 11.
In recent weeks, with vaccines readily available and caseloads dropping, Bowser has been widely criticized by lawmakers and local business owners over the pace of easing capacity limits.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said last week that he expects to lift most remaining limits on gatherings and mandates for social distancing on June 15 if positive trends in infection and vaccination rates continue. He anticipates masking requirements to remain in place until the end of June, he said, and possibly longer if federal guidelines recommend it.
Hogan also announced that he has instructed Maryland’s labor secretary to begin reimposing work-search requirements for state residents collecting unemployment benefits. Hogan, echoing criticisms by Republicans nationally, said there are indications that generous pandemic-era unemployment payments may be discouraging people to reenter the job market.
On Wednesday, Hogan also noted that some businesses may choose to remain at lower capacity levels. For example, he noted that months ago he authorized the Preakness, which runs on Saturday, to have 50 percent capacity. The organizers have said they plan to operate at 10 percent.
As they have in the past, local authorities in Maryland are allowed to keep stricter rules in place. Some immediately said they would reopen, including Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), who said his county would “follow the state’s lead.”
Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said Wednesday evening that the Washington suburb will allow most businesses to operate at full capacity as of Monday at 5:01 p.m.
Social distancing and mask requirements remain in place, she said. Restaurants, personal service establishments, gyms, casinos and retail establishments are all among the businesses that will be able to fully reopen, she said.
Banquet halls, concert venues and social and fraternal clubs will remain limited to 50 percent maximum capacity. Indoor gatherings are still limited to 20 people and outdoors gatherings to 50 people, Alsobrooks said in a statement.
Other local leaders were weighing how to respond to Hogan’s order.
“We again learned today’s news at the same time as the rest of the public,” said Sean Naron, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski Jr. (D). “We’re currently evaluating the orders and announcements made today and will identify next steps after consulting with our public health team.”
Restaurant owners in Maryland welcomed Hogan’s news, calling it a “long-awaited day” for restaurants to operate without restrictions.
“The road to recovery can begin,” Marshall Weston, chief executive of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said in a statement.
Hogan continued to stress the importance of getting a vaccine, adding that there is “no excuse” for waiting to get inoculated.
“It is the only way to get rid of the mask and put covid-19 in our rearview mirror,” he said urging residents to receive the shot.
Meanwhile, others said they thought Hogan’s decision to lift capacity limitations was premature.
Roxie Herbekian, president of Unite Here Local 7, which represents 3,000 hospitality and restaurant workers in Maryland, said she’s unsure whether many restaurants will be able to operate at full capacity even after the governor’s order takes effect. There are still many workers who are wary of working in crowded places because they have yet to receive their vaccine, have underlying health conditions or live with elderly folks, she said.
Baltimore City officials did not respond to a request for comment about the change. But hours before Hogan’s announcement, Baltimore City Mayor Brandon Scott (D) held a news conference where he announced that the city, which is slowly seeing progress in vaccination rates and infection rates, would increase its capacity limits to 50 percent beginning Monday, aligning with Maryland’s current guidelines.
Scott said that 40 percent of Baltimore residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and that 31 percent of the population has received both doses.
“Remember that still means out of every three people you still encounter on the street two are not yet fully vaccinated,” he said. “This is not over. We all know we have variants and strains of this virus that are still coming. We have a long way to go. It is not time to claim victory or celebrate just yet.”
Donna St. George contributed to this report.