County Re-opening Plans: Most With State, Some Staying Stricter

This week’s announcement relaxing most statewide COVID restrictions on businesses and group events allowed counties to exercise “local authority” to remain more strict – and some are responding to still-troubling local caseloads and staying more cautious.

This week saw a flurry of local action, which arose amidst legal questions about the Governor’s latest executive order repealing many statewide restrictions. The elimination of state-granted authority left counties to quickly untangle their own processes and authority, in pursuit of continued local limitations if warranted.

The Office of the Attorney General offered guidance on the correct reading of the order, for county purposes. From coverage in the Baltimore Sun:

In a letter addressed to Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, General Assembly counsel Sandra Benson Brantley, a member of Attorney General Brian Frosh’s legal team, confirmed that local orders based on past state emergency orders will be null and void as of 5 p.m. Friday but said counties have their own ability to issue stricter guidance — though how it’s done will depend upon the action.

County actions, going forward, may rely on that county’s Board of Health (often the governing body itself) or the Health Officer, each of whom have local authority to respond to health matters to address local concerns.

A summary of county actions announced this far has been provided by Maryland Matters, with its provocative title, “On Reopenings, Counties Are All Over the Map.”

Montgomery County is expected to announce its own plans for local restrictions on March 12 before the state executive order takes effect, and will join at least Baltimore City, Frederick County, and Prince George’s County in continuing local limitations. Most Maryland counties appear to be ready to follow the relaxed statewide guidelines.

The New York Times reported on the Maryland decision, citing the ambiguity regarding local authority, in its article “Maryland lifts many Covid restrictions, to cheers, criticism and confusion.

Stay tuned to Conduit Street for continued coverage on all coronavirus matters during this still dangerous pandemic.

Michael Sanderson

Executive Director Maryland Association of Counties