Citing an eight-week low in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations — and a dire need to resuscitate Maryland’s struggling businesses after a three-month lockdown — Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday announced his plan to complete Stage 2 of the Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery by June 19.

“While we are continuing to battle this deadly virus, we are also fighting to protect and improve the health of those small businesses that have been suffering, and the thousands of Marylanders who have not been working and are struggling to make ends meet, which is why we are continuing to push to safely reopen more and more of our economy,” Hogan said at his June 10 press conference.

The initial phase-in of Stage 2 began on June 5 when Hogan reopened businesses like massage and tattoo parlors, nail salons, tanning shops, offices, manufacturing and warehousing. Restaurants were also allowed to begin outdoor seating only.

The completion of Stage 2 will be phased in in two parts — on Friday, June 12 at 5 p.m., and on June 19 at 5 p.m.

Effective June 12, restaurants and bars can reopen at 50 percent capacity provided they follow CDC, FDA and National Restaurant Association guidelines; tables must be spaced six feet apart.

Swimming pools and outdoor amusement activities will also reopen at 50 percent capacity with safety guidelines strictly in place.

The following Friday, June 19, indoor fitness centers, casinos, arcades and shopping malls can reopen at 50 percent capacity as well. See Hogan’s amended executive order for the list of businesses that can reopen June 12 and June 19 (page 4 – 7).

Childcare services in the state can resume with no more than 15 children in a room, and schools can reopen and begin to hold classes with no more than 10 – 15 students to a classroom.

Maryland School Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon spoke after Hogan and announced that school systems should give priority to students who’ve struggled with distance learning during the shutdown.

“I strongly encourage local school systems to focus any return to school buildings for summer instruction on those who’ve been most deeply impacted by the pandemic or those that have struggled with distance learning, “Salmon said. “This likely includes our younger children, students who are the farthest behind academically, students who lack the capacity to work independently and students without the proper resources to participate effectively in distance learning.”

And while the time has passed for schools to hold commencements, school systems were given the go-ahead to hold outdoor graduation ceremonies if possible.

“Coinciding with the end of the school year, we are encouraging local school systems where possible to plan and to hold safe outdoor graduation ceremonies with appropriate capacity and distancing measures in place,” Hogan said.

The completion of Stage 2 offers flexibility for local governments to slow down implementation, but not speed it up.

Hogan justified balancing public health with the economic recovery with statistics showing drastic declines in average infection rates from 27 to 7 percent since infections peaked 55 days ago.

Prince George’s and Montgomery counties have infection rates higher than the state average but the two counties continue to show drastic declines in infections as well.

Maryland’s decline in infections lead the nation, Hogan said. He attributed declines to action taken early on in the pandemic to prevent 12,500 deaths that computer modeling had predicted would occur without aggressive intervention.

Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Fran Phillips also appeared with Hogan and implored individuals to practice safety measures and make personal choices that have helped flatten the COVID-19 curve.

“Just because it’s open doesn’t mean you have to participate,” she said. “If indoor dining is available, you may choose to dine outdoors or at home. We can continue to keep this curve flat and prevent a second wave if we all continue to use common sense and practice social distancing.  These are the tools that we can control, and they will make us safe.”