Like a number of states across the country, DC, Maryland, and Virginia (collectively, “the DMV”) have begun to reopen their economies by gradually easing restrictions introduced in late March to slow the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. Both Virginia and Maryland moved to Phase 1 of their respective reopening plans on May 15, 2020, while a number of local jurisdictions in both states and DC opted to delay their Phase 1 transition until May 29. Although the collective DMV has begun reopening, differences among the area’s jurisdictions persist. The easing of restrictions under the DC statewide plan is more limited than Virginia’s or Maryland’s Phase 1 plans, and several Maryland local jurisdictions are leaving in place some of the restrictions that are eased under Phase 1 of the Virginia statewide plan. Businesses with a presence in multiple DMV jurisdictions will need to understand and incorporate these distinctions as they restart operations across the region.

Virginia and Maryland Began Reopening on May 15, With Several Local Jurisdictions Delaying Their Phase 1 Launch Dates

On May 4, the governor of Virginia announced, in a press conference, that the Commonwealth would allow a number of businesses that had previously been subject to complete closure (including restaurant dining rooms, theaters, salons, gyms, and tattoo parlors) to reopen beginning on May 15, subject to occupancy, hygiene, and other restrictions. Under Phase 1 of its reopening plan, Virginia eased a number of restrictions on such businesses, though certain entertainment businesses and indoor recreational facilities remain closed. These changes are detailed in Virginia Executive Order No. 61.

The Virginia governor’s initial reopening plan encountered resistance from local officials in Northern Virginia. On May 10, leaders of Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties, and the City of Alexandria sent a signed letter to Governor Northam, along with a memorandum prepared by their respective public health directors, requesting that the transition to Phase 1 in Northern Virginia be delayed beyond May 15. On May 12, Virginia’s governor announced the delay of Phase I for the Northern Virginia localities that sought delay, and several other Northern Virginia counties, cities, and towns. Specifically, Executive Order No. 62 extends the restrictions for Northern Virginia through May 28 and delays the application of Phase I for that region until May 29. The governor similarly granted a request from the mayor of the City of Richmond to delay the city’s transition to Phase 1.

Leaders of urban and suburban parts of Maryland made similar requests for delay of statewide reopening plans. After announcing the expansion of permissible outdoor recreation activities as well as the resumption of elective medical procedures (effective May 6), the Maryland governor announced, on May 13, that the State would transition to Phase 1 of Maryland’s three-step COVID-19 recovery plan on May 15. A press release and summary of the changes (which are similar to those in Virginia) is available here, and an Order detailing the Phase 1 changes is available here. Among other things, the updated order allowed some nonessential retail and service providers – including clothing and shoe stores, pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, carwashes, art galleries and bookstores – to reopen, subject to a variety of requirements, including occupancy limits of 50 percent or less.

Shortly after the Maryland governors’ May 13 announcement, officials for Montgomery County (a DC suburb) issued a statement that the County was “not ready” to reopen and would do so on its own timetable – regardless of what the rest of the state does. Several other counties near DC, and the City of Baltimore, also announce that they would delay any move to reopen. Like his Virginia counterpart, the Maryland governor decided to allow for local flexibility: Maryland Order No. 20-05-13-01, issued May 13 and effective May 15, provides “a flexible and community-based approach which empowers county leaders to make decisions regarding the timing of Phase One reopening in their individual jurisdictions” (quote from press release).

In contrast to Maryland and Virginia, on May 13, the DC mayor announced that the District would continue to operate under the restrictions imposed by its original, strict stay-at-home order, and that the District’s restrictions would be extended through 6/8/2020. This extension is reflected in Mayor’s Order 2020-066 (issued 5/13/2020).

As of May 29, Most of the DMV Has Begun to Reopen—But Differences Persist

On May 26, the Virginia governor announced that Northern Virginia would transition to Phase 1 on May 29. According to the governor, “[a]ll of Virginia will operate under Phase One starting Friday.” Officials from counties in Northern Virginia have confirmed that beginning on May 29, restaurants and gyms will be permitted to offer outdoor seating and outdoor exercise.

In contrast, several counties in Maryland continue to lag behind. Although Baltimore County moved to Phase 1 on May 22, and Baltimore City, Howard County, and Charles County transitioned on May 29, Prince George’s County and Montgomery County will not transition until June 1 (see media coverage here).

On May 27, the DC mayor announced that the District had achieved a key benchmark for reopening – a 14-day decline in community spread – and would transition to Phase 1 of its reopening on May 29 (see also DC situational update here). The mayor also announced the lifting of the stay-at-home order, effective May 29. DC’s Phase 1 order permits limited operation of non-essential retail (limited to delivery and curbside pickup) and limited operation of hair salons and barbershops (by appointment only; no waiting on site; services limited to hair – no waxing, electrolysis, threading, or nail care allowed).

The easing of restrictions in DC is more limited than in Maryland and Virginia, which (for instance) allow in-store retail shopping and a broader variety of personal care services.

Restrictions in Maryland tend to be more strict than those in Virginia (even under Phase 1), largely because Virginia’s original order restricting business activities (Executive Order No. 53) was less restrictive than its Maryland counterpart (Executive Order 20-03-30-01 Prohibiting Non-Essential Business). Rather than shutting down all non-essential businesses and organizations (as the Maryland Order did), the Virginia Order closed specified types of organizations. Retail stores remained open throughout the lockdown (although “non-essential” retail stores were subject to occupancy limits), and the construction, manufacturing, and professional service sectors (among others) were allowed to continue operating, subject to various restrictions.

Additionally, some of the local Maryland jurisdictions that have just begun to reopen are initially  adopting only certain elements of the Maryland Phase 1 transition plan. For instance, at least for now, Montgomery County, Prince George’s County, and Baltimore City will only allow retail stores to offer curbside pickup under Phase 1, in contrast to the statewide Phase 1 policy allowing in-store retail shopping subject to occupancy limits and other requirements. In contrast, Howard County and Charles County are allowing in-store retail shopping, consistent with the statewide approach under Phase 1.

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Notwithstanding their close proximity and prior commitments to coordinate their reopening, the DMV jurisdictions are taking divergent approaches to reopening. Restrictions in DC continue to be much more extensive than in Maryland and Virginia, and restrictions in Maryland continue to be stricter than those in Virginia. Additionally, some local variation continues to persist in Maryland, with several counties declining to fully conform with Phase 1 of the statewide reopening plan.

This localized approach offers greater flexibility but also multiplies the complexities for businesses with operations in numerous jurisdictions, which will have to monitor and comply with an increasingly complex patchwork of restrictions that vary significantly not only from one state to another, but from one county to another.


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