Local Jurisdictions Plot out Re-Opening Plans

Government leaders in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia have all announced frameworks for gradually returning their jurisdictions back to somewhat normal operations, but even the beginning phases are likely several weeks away. And even then, business owners and patrons can expect face masks and social distancing to be major components of society for months to come.

While some states, like Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas, have all re-opened (to varying degrees) certain retail businesses that had been shuttered, the three major jurisdictions in the Washington region are taking a slower approach. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s “Forward Virginia” plan is contingent on the commonwealth hitting several key benchmarks, including administering at least 10,000 COVID-19 tests per day, while sustaining a two-week decrease in new cases.

In a way that mirrors the federal government’s three-phase reopening plan, “phase one” in Governor Northam’s plan would still encourage teleworking where feasible, but would allow some previously-shuttered businesses to reopen. The plan also projects that phase one would “recommend” face coverings in public, but lacks any additional details on enforcement.

Currently, auto sales and service departments in Virginia are able to continue operating, so long as they limit patron capacity to no more than 10 at any time, while ensuring all employees can maintain a six-foot distance from others at all times.

In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan announced last week that the state had secured 500,000 additional COVID-19 test kits, an integral component in Maryland’s re-opening plan. Maryland’s recovery plan features three additional benchmarks beyond rapidly expanding COVID testing: increasing hospital surge capacity, producing much more personal protective equipment, and developing a “robust contact tracing operation.” You may view Maryland’s Roadmap to Recovery plan here.

Governor Hogan said last week that he is hopeful that the state could begin implementing the first step of the recovery plan by mid-May. Maryland’s plan envisions a reopening plan that covers low, medium, and high risk categories, with a potential for additional regulations in each of the three phases.

According to the Roadmap, some of the earliest changes would likely be allowing small shops to open, implementing a retail-to-go model where certain stores could open by appointment for small groups, with transactions occurring outside, and a re-opening of the state’s golf courses, hiking trails, and other similar spaces for low-capacity outdoor activities.

Maryland auto dealerships and service facilities are also currently allowed to remain open, under interpretive guidance issued in late March. That said, businesses in Maryland must be compliant with both the statewide face mask ordinance, and in some counties, far more restrictive local guidances requiring all employees to wear masks at their worksites. The governor’s public statements over the past week or two give the impression that those requirements will remain in effect even as more businesses are allowed to re-open.

On Monday, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser announced that she had formed the ReOpen DC Advisory Group. The group, which features former federal Cabinet officials and city government leaders, will be tasked with developing a re-opening plan that must take into account the city’s much higher population density relative to its neighboring states, and the hundreds of thousands of workers who, in happier times, travel into the city every day for work.

The District’s stay-at-home order is currently in effect through at least May 15. There are no new automobile dealerships in the city.

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