Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday an amendment to his stay-at-home order amid the coronavirus pandemic to allow for some outdoor activities such as golfing, fishing, tennis and camping to begin at 7 a.m. Thursday.
In addition, state beaches and playgrounds can reopen. Local governments can take similar actions.
Hogan said the fact that hospitalizations have trended down and patients admitted to intensive care unit beds remained flat for eight straight days are two of the reasons for his easing of the restrictions.
However, participants must continue to follow social distancing guidelines, be in small groups of no more than 10 people and recommended to wear masks or face coverings.
“We know outside activity is safer than inside activity,” the Republican governor said. “It will remain critical that you continue to follow public health guidelines, continue to practice physical distancing and most of all, to continue to take actions to keep yourself and your fellow Marylanders safe.”
In a not-so-surprising announcement, Maryland schools Superintendent Karen Salmon announced Wednesday schools will remain closed for the remainder of the year.
Distance and online learning will continue until the last day of the academic year for each of the state’s 24 school systems.
With schools to remain closed, officials plan to continue its statewide meal distribution to students. So far, Salmon said, about eight million meals have been served.
“I am convinced this was the appropriate decision in order to continue to protect the health and safety of our students, educators, staff and all members of school communities throughout Maryland,” she said.
In terms of high school seniors, Salmon said each local superintendent and school board can decide how to organize commencement ceremonies.
“I have reminded superintendents that however they choose to honor the Class of 2020, they must remain in compliance with the governor’s executive orders,” she said. “I am confident with the leadership of local superintendents … and members of our school communities, we can get through this crisis together and come out stronger than ever for all of our Maryland students.”
She said school systems will follow a “Maryland Together: Recovery Plan of Education” to coincide with Hogan’s three-part plan for reopening the state.
The loosening of some of those restrictions, such as in-person classroom activities for English Language learners and special needs students, may not take place until the second phase. Also, alternative schedules may be incorporated.
But full classroom activities may not occur until the third stage of the governor’s plan, which includes a return to large gatherings.
Cheryl Bost, president of the state teacher’s union, agreed with Salmon’s decision discussed among the state board of education, state health department and health experts who advised Hogan.
“Educators miss our students,” she said in a statement. “We wish we could see them, talk with them, laugh with them, and teach them in person. We wish we could say goodbye to them before the school year ends. Instead, educators, families and students will continue to do our best during this period of crisis distance learning, while knowing that we have a great deal of work to do now and moving forward. We must address the inequities within our community — whether of technology access for educators and students, food security, trauma care, or otherwise — that have been magnified by this crisis.”
Maryland joins neighboring Virginia and the District of Columbia in closing schools for the remainder of the academic year. The last day for D.C. students is May 29 and varying dates for students in Virginia.
In Prince George’s County, the last day for high school seniors remains May 15 and for all students on June 16.
Since the closure of school March 16, about half-million meals have been served in the county at nearly 50 sites. Parents and guardians can pick up meals Monday and Wednesday.
In a letter to the school community, public schools CEO Monica Goldson said in a statement future updates will be sent on summer enrichment and plans for the fall.
“I appreciate everything that you have done to keep your families healthy and safe during this time,” she said. “While none of us could have predicted the school year would end this way, I am committed to finishing what we started together — PGCPS proud and PGCPS strong — as one community, one village.”
As of 10 a.m. Wednesday, the state reported approximately 28,163 confirmed coronavirus cases, a single-day increase of 1,046 from Tuesday. More than half of the confirmed 1,338 deaths are from nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, according to state data.