Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced Wednesday during a press conference broadcast live on YouTube that the Maryland might begin Phase 1 of its “Roadmap to Recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic, if state trends showing a decline in the numbers of hospitalizations and intensive care admittances continue through the next week. However, while some things may reopen, schools will not be one of those.
At the same press conference, State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that all public schools will remain closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year.
“After extensive discussion with the Maryland State Board of Education, the Maryland Health Department and additional health experts advising the governor, I am convinced this is the appropriate decision in order to continue to protect the health and safety of our students, our educators, our staff and all members of our school community throughout Maryland,” Salmon said.
“Although we will not see students and educators return to our classrooms before the end of the school year, online and distance learning opportunities will continue,” she added.
Charles County Public Schools Superintendent Kimberly Hill, in a letter sent to parents, said that schools will be developing plans and timelines to allow students to retrieve belongings left in buildings, as well as plans for turning in paper assignments.
"The past two months have not been easy, but I have seen community members, staff and our kids rise to challenges posed by this pandemic. I know we will come out of this stronger together," Hill said.
Cheryl Bost, a Baltimore County elementary school teacher and president of the Maryland State Education Association, also issued a statement following the announcement.
“Although this is the right decision for the safety and health of our students, educators, and state, today is a sad day,” Bost said. “Educators miss our students. We wish we could see them, talk with them, laugh with them, and teach them in person. We wish we could say goodbye to them before the school year ends. Instead, educators, families, and students will continue to do our best during this period of crisis distance learning, while knowing that we have a great deal of work to do now and moving forward. We must address the inequities within our community — whether of technology access for educators and students, food security, trauma care, or otherwise — that have been magnified by this crisis. We look forward to the day that we can return to our schools and the everyday joys, challenges, and work of educating our students.”
Hogan has said previously that his Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery plan for reopening the state rested on four pillars: expanded testing, expanded hospital surge capacity, an increased supply of personal protective equipment and a robust contact tracing system.
Hogan said Wednesday that all four prerequisites have been met.
In addition, Hogan said that both hospitalizations and intensive care cases would have to show a downward decline for 14 days prior to beginning Phase 1 of the roadmap, and both have done so for the past week. Hogan said he is not committing to beginning Phase 1, but is hopeful.
“If these trends continue into next week, we would be ready to lift the 'stay at home' order and begin Phase 1 of our recovery plan,” Hogan said. “I'm not committing to it, because the numbers [of cases] could spike back up, and we could say, 'Sorry, we're not moving forward.' But if the numbers continue to show these positive signs, we could be ready to move forward.”
Hogan said Phase 1 included allowing voluntary medical procedures, which had been halted due to concerns of overloading the healthcare system. He said the Maryland Department of Health would issue guidelines for elective procedures, at the discretion of local health care providers.
“Many Marylanders may have put off important procedures, screenings and other procedures that they really need to attend to. If there's something you've been able to delay, like a CAT scan, or orthopedic procedures, you should be able to attend to those important procedures now,” Hogan said.
Hogan also announced that effective Thursday at 7 p.m. the list of safe outdoor activities would now be broadened to include golf, tennis, fishing, camping and other activities, and that state parks and beaches would now be open for walking and exercise, as well as playgrounds at state parks. Local jurisdictions could open their parks and facilities as well, at their discretion.
“However, it will remain critical that you continue to follow public health guidelines for physical distancing and most of all that you continue to take actions to keep yourselves and your fellow Marylanders safe,” Hogan said.
Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander for the University of Maryland Medical System and a member of the governor's coronavirus recovery team, emphasized that it is still important to limit the spread of the the virus.
“We need to maintain physical distancing,” Marcozzi said. “We need to keep practices like hand hygiene and cough hygiene appropriately. When we congregate, we need to congregate in small groups so this virus doesn't have a chance to spread among us easily. If possible, please wear masks.”
Salmon emphasized that limited reopening of schools would not be part of Phase 1 of the roadmap, but limited reopenings could be part of Phase 2 or Phase 3.
“For example, some strategies for small group learning, following social distancing in school buildings, could be included in Stage 2, such as bringing various groups of students back on an alternating A and B day schedule, or alternating weeks of in-person attendance with distance learning between different groups of students. School systems could also bring students back to address specific student needs, such as students with disabilities and English language learners,” Salmon said, adding that a full return of the student body in person to schools would be a part of Phase 3 of the reopening plan.
“Schools will restructure their day-to-day operations to be in concert with public health guidance,” Salmon said. “Any return of students and staff to the classroom depends on the circumstances in each individual school system and local school systems will have the flexibility to adapt the model to best serve their needs.”
Salmon addressed high school graduations, saying that each superintendent and school system will develop a plan to recognize the accomplishments of graduating seniors of the Class of 2020.
Shortly before the announcement, Charles County Public Schools issued a news release detailing its plan for graduate recognition, announcing virtual graduations.
“Virtual graduation ceremonies will allow us to celebrate this important milestone for the Class of 2020 while ensuring the safety and health of our community. Before making this decision, I consulted with members of the Class of 2020, high school principals, the Charles County Department of Health, the Superintendent’s Operations group, and law enforcement officials,” CCPS Superintendent Kimberly Hill stated in the release.
Graduations for the Class of 2020 will begin at 7 a.m., June 11, and air on Comcast Channel 96, Verizon FiOs 12, YouTube and Vimeo, the release stated.
Every senior will receive copies of their school’s official Commencement 2020 Program highlighting the accomplishments of the class as well as the Class of 2020 post-secondary plans. All seniors will also receive a Project Graduation gift bag, which includes items usually given to seniors who attend Project Graduation. Many of these items are generous donations from local businesses. Yard signs commemorating graduating seniors have been ordered and will be on display across the community, starting May 8, according to the release.