Customers walk into a Whole Foods Market store in Silver Spring, Md., on March 31. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday the state's stay-at-home order would expire Friday, allowing retail stores to reopen at limited capacity. Photo by Kevin Dietsch/UPI | License Photo
May 14 (UPI) -- New Mexico extended its stay-at-home order with eased restrictions for most businesses while Maryland, Virginia and Wyoming unveiled plans to begin reopening their economies starting this weekend.
The announcements were made Wednesday as the United States' coronavirus infections neared 1.4 million, according to a tracker of the deadly and infectious virus by Johns Hopkins University.
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham extended the state's stay-at-home order -- first issued March 23 -- until May 31 but modified it to allow most retail stores to reopen at 25 percent capacity.
The order was originally set to expire Friday.
"We can have slight reopenings, but it's not an invitation to go out and about and ignore our public health requirements," Grisham said in a statement. "The virus decides when and how much we reopen, and our behavior will determine how well we control its spread."
The state has been in a so-called preparation phase for the past two weeks, during which the coronavirus has continued to spread though the overall transmission rate has dropped and the hospital system is withstanding demand, the governor's office said.
On Wednesday, the state's health department announced 155 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, increasing its total to 5,349 infections and 231 deaths connected to the virus.
The state said it's using a gating criteria to dictate how and when the state will reopen.
"We're going to demand the science guide every decision we make," Grisham said.
Of the changes to the stay-at-home order, Grisham said starting Saturday all retailers may open at 25 percent fire code occupancy and non-essential businesses may operate at 25 percent staffing levels though employees should work from home if able. Houses of worship, she said, may open at 10 percent capacity.
She also said masks will be required of everyone in public with exceptions for while eating, drinking and exercising.
"As the state opens up and our risk increases, the only way we save lives and keep the gating criteria where it is is if we're all wearing face coverings," she said. "It's not a guarantee against the virus, but it helps slow the spread, and that's why we're mandating it."
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state's stay-at-home order will expire Friday evening and a safer-at-home public health advisory will take its place, allowing retail stores to reopen at limited capacity.
"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," Hogan said in a statement.
Under the new health advisory, retail stores including clothing, shoe and book stores as well as pet groomers, car washes and art galleries, will be permitted to operate at 50 percent capacity with curbside pickup and delivery strongly encouraged.
Places of worship will also be permitted to open at 50 percent capacity while manufacturing businesses may resume operations in "a safe manner," the governor's office said in a statement.
Residents will still be urged to stay home as much as possible and businesses will be encouraged to keep employees working from home.
Hogan announced the state had its first three COVID-19 cases on March 5. Since then, there have been 34,812 confirmed cases and 1,694 deaths, the governor said Wednesday during a press conference.
He said aggressive actions the state has taken have "successfully flatten the curve and avoided the nightmare scenario projected by public health experts."
In the District of Columbia, however, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser extended the city's stay-at-home order until June 8 due to daily COVID-19 diagnoses failing to decline.
"It is, therefore, necessary to maintain our vigilance, to avoid a rapid increase in the occurrence of new cases and a spike in the number of fatalities, and to protect the public health, safety and welfare of District residents," she said in the order.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced during a press conference Wednesday the state will move into phase one of reopening on Friday, with exceptions for certain northern communities, which will have to wait an additional two weeks to ease restrictions.
He said moving to phase one was dependent on reaching certain health metrics.
"Phase one will not be like turning on a light switch," Northam cautioned.
Under the plan starting Friday, retail and places of worship will be able to operate at 50 percent capacity though restaurants must remain closed except those with outdoor seating may utilize it at 50 percent, he said, adding, salons and barbershops may open under strict social distance guidelines.
Phase one is expected to last two weeks, but could be extended, he said.
However, black Virginia lawmakers voiced "grave concerns" with the plan, stating in a letter it is too soon to open the state and doing so may disproportionately endanger the lives of people of color.
"Once this phase one plan goes into effect there is no turning back," Lamont Bagby, member of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus, wrote in a letter. "Therefore, we must go through with it only when the proper protections are in place. Other countries who have reopened too soon have experienced spikes in the virus, leaving these countries scrambling to dial back these reopening policies."
In the letter, Bagby requested Northman to respond to their concerns with a plan "that explicitly considers and confronts current and potential growth in racial disparities and the needs and safety of underserved and vulnerable populations in Virginia."
According to data from the state's health department, Virginia has recorded 26,746 cases of COVID-19 and 927 deaths.
Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon announced new guidelines to ease business restrictions from Friday.
"We have been working diligently to modify our public health order to continue a safe and sensible reawakening of Wyoming's economy," Gordon said.
Movie theaters and performance venues will be allowed to reopen under the new guidelines at limited capacity, he said, and restaurants and bars will be permitted to serve both indoor and outdoor dining.
"It is important to remember even as we ease restrictions, the virus is not gone. It is still here. It is still invisible and it is still capable of wreaking havoc and it's going to be with us some time here in Wyoming," he said in a press conference.
According to the state's health department, Wyoming has 685 confirmed and probable infections and seven deaths related to the virus.
The announcements came a day after Arizona announced the state will be lifting its stay-at-home order on Friday and two days after Louisiana, South Carolina and Wisconsin said they would be easing restrictions on certain businesses.
The Wisconsin Supreme Court on Wednesday also overturned the state's stay-at-home order as anger and protests continue in some states against the measures some say exceed the limits of the law.
Demonstrators gathered outside of the Michigan Capitol building Thursday to protest Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's stay-at-home order.
Michigan State Police estimated the protest -- organized by MichiganUnited for Liberty -- drew about 200 people "at the high point" on Thursday and later fell to about 75 people.
Police spokeswoman Shannon Banner also said some demonstrators openly carried firearms during the protest.
State police also reported that a fight broke out between two protesters after a man was seen carrying a garbage can containing a sign, an ax and an American flag with an unclothed doll hanging from the bottom by a noose.
"There was an incident between two demonstrators, in which one demonstrator tried to take a sign out of another demonstrator's hand. There are no injuries and no arrests were made," police said.
The Capitol building was closed on Thursday as both chambers of the legislature were out of session on Thursday as they had completed all votes for the week on Wednesday and adjourned for the week.
Late last month, protesters including some carrying firearms entered the Capitol building as Whitmer extended Michigan's state of emergency in response to the pandemic.