With reports of declining COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, Gov. Larry Hogan moved the state to Stage 1 of Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery — lifting the stay-at-home order and reopening some businesses at 50 percent capacity effective Friday, May 15, at 5 p.m.

The easing of restrictions comes on the 70th day of the state of emergency as COVID-19 hospitalizations and ICU admissions have started to plateau or decline, a metric Hogan said early on must be sustained for 14 straight days in order to begin reopening Maryland’s economy.

“I am pleased to announce that Maryland has achieved the 14-day trend of plateauing and declining numbers,” he said at his May 13 announcement. “The number of coronavirus hospitalizations is down from two weeks ago [and] the number of ICU patients has plateaued for a significant period of time and is trending down over the past 14 days.”

He said the rate of new deaths was also trending downward.

“This allows us to cautiously and safely begin Stage 1 of the recovery plan,” Hogan said.

The stay-at-home order will become the “safer at home public health advisory.”

Retail stores in the state can reopen at  50 percent capacity with the use of masks and social distancing. Delivery and curbside pickup are strongly encouraged under Stage 1.

Stage 1 does not include bars and restaurants.

Manufacturing in the state will resume with guidelines that encourage multiple shifts to reduce the number of workers in a business at any one time.

Salons and Barber Shops can reopen at 50 percent capacity by appointment only with safety guidelines in place, Hogan said.

Art galleries, pet adoption agencies, pet groomers, car washes and churches are among the venues that can reopen at 50 percent capacity.

Hogan strongly urged religious leaders to hold services outdoors.

Hogan also encouraged Maryland businesses to take the Maryland Strong Back to Business Pledge and post copies on store fronts so customers can feel assured that best practices are in place.

The order also gives latitude to local governments to reopen commerce and activities as they see fit, Hogan said.

“We fully understand that not all counties are in the same situation,” he said. “I assured our county leaders that as we begin to slowly and cautiously lift restrictions at the state level, we are providing for a flexible, community-based approach which empowers individual county leaders to make decisions regarding the timing of Stage 1 reopenings in their individual jurisdictions.”

Currently four counties account for 70 percent of the states COVID-19 cases.

Stage 1 does not signal an end to the pandemic, Hogan said.

“While we are taking a positive step forward, it does not mean that we are safe or that this crisis is over,” he said. “All Marylanders, particularly those older and more vulnerable populations, are advised to continue staying home as much as possible.”

“Each and every one of us has an obligation to continue to exercise responsibility for ourselves, for our families, for our coworkers, and for our fellow Marylanders, so that as a community, together we can begin to safely get back to work and get back to our daily lives.”

Marylanders are still required to wear masks in indoor public places, maintain social distancing, practice frequent hand washing and avoid gatherings of ten or more people.

Hogan said every decision going forward would be science based.

“As we begin Stage One of our recovery, I want to assure every Marylander who may feel uneasy, and anyone who is concerned that we are moving either too quickly or too slowly, that each and every decision we make is both fact-based and science-based and made only after extensive consultation with our expert Coronavirus Recovery Team,” he said. “We are continually monitoring this crisis, we remain focused on the clusters, outbreaks, and hotspots, and I can assure you that we remain ready to quickly and decisively respond to any changes in the facts on the ground, and that we will continue to attack this virus with every single tool at our disposal.”

“The painful truth is that this virus will continue to be with us and be a part of our daily lives and potential outbreaks will continue to remain a deadly threat until a vaccine is widely available.”

Hogan said a move to Stage 2 of the Roadmap can only begin if Stage 1 is sustained without a spike in hospitalizations and ICU cases, or community spread outbreaks.