By Regina Garcia Cano
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday issued a travel advisory urging residents to avoid visiting some states with rapidly increasing cases of coronavirus and expanded mask-wearing requirements.
Anyone older than age 5 will be required to wear a face covering starting at 5 p.m. Friday in all indoor public areas of businesses and buildings, including churches, offices and restaurants. Hogan's order also expands the requirement to outdoor spaces when it is not possible to maintain social distance.
"This expansion of the masking order is an action that is both fact-based, apolitical and solidly grounded in science," he told reporters during a news conference in Annapolis. "While it can be an inconvenience, especially in the heat, wearing a mask is the single best mitigation strategy that we have to fight the virus."
The travel advisory applies to states with positive test rates of or higher than 10%. As of Wednesday, that would include Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Louisiana, Nebraska, South Carolina and Texas.
Hogan said if people must visit those states, they should immediately be tested upon returning to Maryland and quarantine themselves until learning the results.
The new steps follow an increase in cases and hospitalizations in the state. Maryland reported 571 hospitalized COVID-19 patients Wednesday, of which 126 were in the intensive care unit.
Hogan said the state is pausing reopening plans due to the spike in cases and won't enter the next phase until it is appropriate.
The 7-day rolling average of the positivity rate in Maryland has risen over the past two weeks from 5.39% on July 14 to 5.76% on July 28, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Public health officials have advised governments that positivity rates should be at 5% or lower for 14 days before easing restrictions prompted by the public health crisis.
"We find ourselves at a fork in the road — a critical turning point — where we could either continue making progress and continue heading in the right direction or we could ignore the warnings and spike back up like much of the rest of the country," Hogan said. "We are making every effort to keep Maryland safely open for business"
Hogan also announced that Maryland's Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Fran Phillips, who has led the state's public health response to the pandemic, is retiring after more than 30 years in public service. Dr. Jinlene Chan, the current assistant secretary and chief medical officer, will take on Phillips' role in an acting capacity.