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Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday moved the state into Stage 3 of Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery Plan — effective Sept. 4 at 5 p.m.

“I’m pleased to report that our early and aggressive mitigation efforts to fight COVID-19 have been extremely successful and that we have continued to see declining numbers in all of our key health metrics,” he said. He said the state’s positivity rate for COVID-19 infections has dropped from 26 percent to 3.39 percent since April.

Correction: When this story first ran it was reported that restaurants could now operate at 75 percent capacity. This was incorrect, restaurants are still allowed to operate only at 50 percent capacity. The Kent Pilot regrets the error.

Retail stores and churches can increase capacity from 50 to 75 percent. Movie theaters and live entertainment events can now open at 50 percent capacity, or 100 attendees maximum for indoors venues and 250 maximum for outdoors venues.

Hogan said the move to Stage 3 did not mean the pandemic was over.

“I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into stage three does not mean that this crisis is behind us,” Hogan said at his 4:30 press conference on Tuesday. “We must remain vigilant so that we can keep Maryland open for business, as we head into the holiday weekend.” 

He said state law  ultimately gives counties the authority to institute stricter guidelines in rolling out Stage 3 re-openings.

Hogan again gave a warning about family gatherings and said that 41 percent of the new COVID-19 cases were related to family gatherings, and 19 percent came from attending house parties and outdoor events, according to back tracing data compiled by health officials. 

“You hear about things and you think it’s maybe dangerous to go to a restaurant or a bar or some business, but in fact, the number one thing reported is family gatherings,” he said. “We tend to feel safe when we’re around family and friends and that’s when we let our guard down.”

Kent County Commissioner Ron Fithian said the county would most likely follow Hogan’s recommendation.

“Stage 3 was in the plans early on,” he said. “Maryland is doing better than most states and Kent is doing better than most  counties in the state. This can’t go on forever and we have to get the rest of Kent’s economy fully open.”

The state has been in Stage 2 of the recovery plan since June 5, while the positivity rate has been below 5 percent since June 25.

Apple and Google will be stepping up to help Maryland improve contact tracing with a new app, Exposure Notifications Express, Hogan said.

The app is “designed to help public health officials more quickly provide notifications for residents about potential COVID-19 exposure” through personal devices.