Howard County Executive Calvin Ball issued an executive order on May 26 further relaxing COVID-19 restrictions within the county.

Effective at 7 a.m. May 29, all Howard County retail operations, barbershops and hair salons may reopen at 50 percent capacity, including staff, with additional guidance specific to each industry. Additional interpretive guidance will be made available to county businesses later this week.

Religious institutions and gatherings will also be permitted to hold outdoor services for up to 250 people, but indoor services remain capped at 10 individuals.

“On May 13, when Governor Hogan announced that many decisions regarding reopening would be delegated to local jurisdictions … our data showed we weren’t ready to go as far as the Governor’s order,” said Ball.

After spiking to 78.8 percent on May 15, the ICU utilization rate at Howard County General Hospital fell or remained constant for seven of 14 days before reaching its lowest level since April 1 on May 23.

“The ventilator utilization rate for the same time period is 18.6 percent,” said Ball, while the average daily case count has dropped from 33 per day during the two-week period that started on April 26 to a current rate of 27 per day.

“While we are pleased with the progress we are seeing, we must not become complacent as we enter new phases of reopening,” he said. “We will continue to keep a close eye on our data and ease or tighten restrictions as needed.”

Retailers are still encouraged to use curbside pick-up whenever possible, while staff and clients must continue to wear masks.

Manageable Situation

According to Larry Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority, more than 80 percent of the county’s businesses have fewer than 20 employees.

“We’re very encouraged by todays announcement,” he said, which will allow nearly 1,000 small businesses to begin providing work again for nearly 18,000 employees.

Religious institutions must continue under stricter guidelines than retail for the moment because of a greater risk of Coronavirus exposure.

“In many retail establishments, people come, continue moving around, make their purchases and leave,” Ball explained. “Church gatherings often have large gatherings lasting several hours in an enclosed environment … attended by many people who are still in our vulnerable population.”

According to William Anuszewski, chief of Howard County Fire and Rescue Services, the restrictions ordered by state and county government since the start of the pandemic and the community’s cooperative response helped to successfully flatten the infection rate curve and prevent the health care system in Maryland from becoming overwhelmed.

“Our firefighters and paramedics continue to see a decrease in response, emergency, care, and transport of potential COVID-19 patients,” Anuszewski said.

By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly