INTERACTIVE: A timeline of COVID-19 cases during phased reopening in Maryland
It’s been over a year since the pandemic struck the United States. Since then, the Maryland Department of Health has confirmed 451,267 COVID-19 cases and 8,631 deaths throughout the state. Measures are still being implemented and lifted as Maryland navigates the disease’s ripple effects, most recently with Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision to remove capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining on March 9.
The state makes decisions based on Gov. Hogan’s “Roadmap to Recovery” plan, which was released on April 24, 2020 and developed based on federal, professional and educational advice. According to the plan, the state’s number one priorities are expanding testing and hospital capacities, increasing the supply of personal protective equipment and creating a contact tracing operation.
The plan is divided into “low, middle and high risk” stages that outline phased rollouts that can happen when the state enters each phase.
“The state has done and continues to do fairly well in terms of compliance with executive orders, and guidance,” said Dr. Cliff Mitchell, the director of the environmental health bureau for the Maryland Department of Health.
During the stay-at-home order, daily cases reached a high of 1,741 cases on April 30, 2020. By May 4, 2020, the seven-day average broke 1,000 cases for the first time. Four days later, Gov. Hogan said in a press release that after two weeks of “continued encouraging trends” in COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths, the state was ready to enter into Phase 1 of their reopening plan.
As the state entered into warmer months, the seven-day average for cases hovered around 300 for most of June. Among summer reopenings, however, there was a spike in July reaching a seven-day average of 940 cases on July 30, but the curve dropped to a seven-day average of around 500 cases by the end of August. At this point, over 100,000 total coronavirus cases had been reported in Maryland.
By the time the state entered Phase 3 of the plan, cases reached a seven-day average of 1,372 on Nov. 10 before Gov. Hogan reinstalled capacity restrictions. Following the holidays, Jan. 11 marked an all-time high for the seven-day case average in Maryland — 3,229 cases.
Some, like Dr. Neil Seghal, assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland, think more could have been done.
“It breaks my heart that hundreds of thousands of the deaths that we've experienced in this country were preventable and we chose collectively, and our leaders made decisions for us that put us at risk,” he said.
In accordance with new guidance from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Hogan lifted the outdoor mask mandate on April 28 of this year for everyone, while still recommending that those who are unvaccinated wear a mask. The state also lifted all restrictions on capacity and physical distancing for outdoor dining.
“Each day now brings us closer to the light at the end of this very long tunnel,” Hogan said.
Primary Closures and Stay-at-Home Order
Gov. Hogan declared the first statewide shutdowns on March 16, 2020, effectively closing all bars, restaurants and movie theaters. Public schools scrambled to make the shift to online teaching and small businesses began to struggle. The state only had around 40 reported cases at that time, but quickly began to take even more intense measures as the numbers rose.
Hogan announced this order on March 30, 2020 while there was a seven-day case average of about 188 cases per day, warning that any violations could result in a misdemeanor charge. On April 15, a statewide mask mandate was implemented in public areas as the seven-day average reached 667 cases. Despite the stay-at home order and mask mandate, cases continued to rise. On May 4, the seven-day average of COVID cases broke 1,000 for the first time in the pandemic in Maryland.
Phase 1 Reopening
On May 8, four days after Maryland broke an average of 1,000 cases per day, Gov. Hogan was ready to begin Phase 1 of Maryland’s reopening plan. There was an average of 958 cases per day between May 8 and June 4, 2020, an increase of 409% from the seven-day average on March 30. A three-part recovery plan had been made in April called the “Roadmap to Recovery,” outlining certain activities, both outdoor and indoor, that could continue once deaths and hospitalizations had declined. In Phase 1, activities like outdoor religious services, fishing, boating, golfing, and elective medical procedures could resume, including the reopening of some small businesses. Stipulations for public schools were not clear, but most schools elected to remain online. Although the cases saw a relative decline, they still were considerably higher than the rates seen during the initial stay-at-home order.
Phase 2 Reopening
On June 5, 2020, Gov. Hogan lifted the order requiring all non-essential businesses to remain closed. The daily average seemed to be decreasing, reaching a low of 332 on June 23. Retail stores, barber shops, outdoor dining and other small businesses were allowed to open. Indoor dining at bars and restaurants were ordered to remain closed. Businesses like nail salons and tattoo parlors were allowed to reopen at 50% capacity by appointment only. Hogan then left it up to individual counties to make an executive decision on which other businesses could reopen. “Moving into stage two does not mean that this crisis is behind us or that we can afford to stop being vigilant and cautious,” Hogan said during a press release in June. About three weeks after the fourth of July, Phase 2 saw its largest daily count of cases: 1,291 on July 24.
Phase 3 Reopening
On Sept. 1, Gov. Hogan moved to Phase 3 “based on the state’s improving health metrics,” allowing all businesses to reopen, citing that the statewide positivity rate had decreased to 3.39%. Venues like movie theatres could operate at 50% capacity, and retail businesses and places of worship were allowed to open up from 50% capacity to 75%. In the first few weeks of Phase 3, cases generally stayed below 600 per day, but by late September, they started to rise again. Cases rose at even steeper rates in October, jumping up to a seven-day case average of 1,372 on Nov. 10, about two weeks after Halloween.
There were 1,678 cases on Nov. 10. Hogan said the state was now in the “danger zone,” as the seven-day average continued to climb up to 2,357 cases by Nov. 23, three days before Thanksgiving. In anticipation of homecoming celebrations, Maryland bars and restaurants had a mandated 10 p.m. closing time, and they reduced capacity from 75% to 50%. Maryland State Police units were sent out to highly-infected areas to monitor for large gatherings. State troopers were also assigned to help enforce COVID-19 guidelines. Some Maryland counties, like Montgomery County, had already imposed stricter guidelines when Hogan made his announcement.
Despite half-capacity restrictions, cases continued to rise after the holiday. On Dec. 3, there were 3,796 cases. The seven-day case average broke 2,900 for the first time on Dec. 9.
Holidays exacerbate COVID conditions
On Dec. 17, 2020, Gov. Hogan issued a COVID-19 state of emergency. The announcement included restricting gatherings to 10 people or fewer and expanding travel testing and quarantine requirements, in response to the unprecedented number of COVID-19 cases in the state less than two weeks before Christmas. Despite the restrictions, cases only fell relative to the prior spike, dropping to 1,825 cases on Dec. 28. In the weeks following the holidays, cases rose again. Jan. 11 marked an all-time seven-day case average high of 3,229 cases.
The state of Maryland maintained half-capacity restrictions through the spring as the staggering spike began to fall back down. By Valentine’s Day, the seven-day case average shrunk back down to about 1,000 cases, and continued to shrink through early March.
Indoor dining reutrns, capacity restrictions lift
On March 9, 2021, Gov. Hogan announced in a press conference that all capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining would be lifted. Cases had shrunk back down following the holiday season spike, but the seven-day average on March 10 was still over 800 cases per day. Following the restriction lift, cases climbed back up, reaching a seven-day average of 1,425 cases on April 14, 2021. After that spike, the seven-day case average decreased again to a little over 900 by April 28.
April 2021 - Present
Increased vaccinations and lifted outdoor mask mandate
Aside from phased reopenings, there’s been one factor that’s impacted the spread of coronavirus cases in the state of Maryland: vaccinations.
Around the time of the most recent spike on April 14, 2021, the vaccine rollout reached Phase 3 on April 12 — meaning all vaccine providers in the state would be required to distribute the vaccine to anyone 16 and older. Since then, Marylanders have been receiving vaccines across the state, which could be helping contain the spread.
The University of Maryland Medical Center was the first hospital in the state to receive the Pfizer vaccine, as reported by the Baltimore Sun on Dec. 14. As of April 27, 2021, 56% of Marylanders have received at least one shot of the vaccine.
When the vaccine rollout began in Maryland, Gov. Hogan said: “This is an exciting day for the state of Maryland, and hopefully one we will look back on as the beginning of the end of this pandemic.” As the vaccine continues to roll out, there hasn’t been a considerable decline in cases yet — the state hasn’t reached herd immunity. And despite a declining average since vaccines opened up to everyone over 16, there are still days like April 27, 2021 with over 1,000 COVID cases.
On April 28, Gov. Hogan lifted the outdoor mask mandate.
The mask mandate initially began on April 15, 2020, a day with a seven-day case average of 667. He lifted the outdoor mask mandate on April 28, 2021, which had a seven-day case average of 917 — a 37% increase in the seven-day case average from when masks were initially required.
Dr. Seghal said that for many countries other than the U.S., it didn’t take a vaccine to solve the pandemic.
"It’s the challenge of different states and different regions having different attitudes towards the pandemic and different attitudes towards mitigation measures,” he said.