COVID-19 in Maryland: 2 months after recovery plan, where do we stand?

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MARYLAND (WDVM) — It’s Wednesday, June 24, 2020, and the state of Maryland is steadily moving along with its reopening plan during the coronavirus pandemic.

Governor Larry Hogan’s “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” plan was introduced exactly two months ago, on April 24. While COVID-19 remains a deadly threat, Hogan laid out his intentions in his plan:

“I want to get people back on their feet and get our economy back on track. We will do that as quickly as we possibly can in a safe, gradual and effective way.”

The plan included a Johns Hopkins model, which showed without physical distancing orders and closures, 360,000 Marylanders would have been infected by June 1, 2020, and that as many as 12,240 could have died.

Maryland’s reopening criteria

The state presented its criteria for deciding when to initiate each next phase. According to the recovery plan, Hogan is using the current COVID hospitalization rate as a primary indicator of when to move ahead, and when to pause.

So long as hospitalizations remain steady, and ICU resources continue to be available, we can take a series of steps toward normalization,” the plan reads.

However, reopening comes with a “new normal” in which Marylanders “should be prepared to continue teleworking, wearing masks or face coverings, and practicing physical distancing for the foreseeable future,” according to the plan.

State of emergency

On March 5, 2020, Hogan declared a state of emergency for Maryland. During his evening announcement, he said three Montgomery County residents tested positive for coronavirus.

“I am confident in our state’s ability to respond effectively to these three cases of coronavirus as well as to any future cases, and to be a national leader in responding to this situation and in developing treatments and perhaps even a vaccine.”

Gov. Hogan on March 5, 2020

The governor’s state of emergency proclamation was again renewed on June 3. The renewed proclamation partially reads (scrollable):

continued emergency response by the State is needed to progress through
the Maryland Strong: Roadmap for Recovery, including expanding
COVID-19 testing capacity, maintaining adequate patient surge capacity,
supplying sufficient personal protective equipment, and executing a robust
contact-tracing operation;

to reduce the spread of COVID-19, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention and the Maryland Department of Health recommend social distancing
and avoiding gatherings;

the currently known and available scientific evidence and best practices support
limitations on gatherings and social distancing to prevent exposures and transmissions;

to reduce the threat to human health caused by transmission of the novel
coronavirus in Maryland, and to protect and save lives, it is necessary and
reasonable that individuals in the state refrain from congregating;

Today’s case data: COVID-19 in Maryland on June 24

It’s been 111 days since the state confirmed its first three known cases of the novel coronavirus. The Maryland Health Department has since confirmed 65,337 total COVID-19 cases statewide, with an increase of 330 new cases between June 23 and June 24.

But as mentioned, the number of confirmed cases isn’t Hogan’s key metric guiding reopening decisions. The key metric is the current hospitalizations, which stands at 544 on June 24, with a decrease of 17 patients over the last 24 hours. Note: there have also been 15 COVID-19 patient deaths in Maryland over the last 24 hours, but it is unclear if the decreased hospitalizations are related to the new deaths.

What’s open statewide?

Stage two of Maryland’s Road to Recovery began on June 5. Hogan allowed partially reopening the following businesses statewide during Stage two. (Note: allowed to reopen, not required to reopen):

  • Personal services including nail salons, massage therapists, tanning salons, and tattoo parlors may resume operations at up to 50 percent capacity, by appointment only, and with appropriate health and safety guidelines.
  • Indoor dining resumes at restaurants across the state at 50% capacity with distancing and strict public health requirements.
  • Outdoor amusements and rides, miniature golf, and go-kart tracks may resume with appropriate health and safety protocols. Capacity restrictions at outdoor pools will increase to 50%.
  • Indoor gyms and other studio fitness activities may begin to safely reopen at 50% capacity with strict health, distancing, and sanitization measures. Casinos, arcades, and malls will also be able to begin resuming operations with strict safety protocols.
  • Graduation ceremonies: The governor is encouraging local school systems to plan and hold safe outdoor graduation ceremonies with appropriate capacity and social distancing measures in place.
  •  School systems may now begin bringing small groups of students and staff into school buildings. School systems are encouraged to prioritize summer instruction for vulnerable populations. All nonpublic special education schools may reopen to serve students with disabilities.
  • All child care providers may begin to reopen, and the number of individuals child care providers can have in one room has been expanded to a maximum of 15.
  • Outdoor high school sports may begin to resume practice and training activities within the same guidelines that were previously announced for youth sports programs.

The Road to Recovery plan outlines the following guidance for employers:

“Even when reopening actions are underway, those who can continue to telework should
continue to do so. This will reduce social interactions overall and will reduce the risk of
infection in workplaces where telework is feasible. Businesses should actively support
social distancing by implementing telework policies and adopting flexible sick leave
policies that encourage workers to stay home when sick or when known exposure to
COVID-19 has occurred.”

Maryland Road to Recovery plan, page 21
People enjoy the outdoors in Annapolis, Md., near Pusser’s Caribbean Grille, Friday, June 12, 2020. Maryland will ease more restrictions on businesses that have been in place due to the coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday. Hogan provided a schedule for allowing indoor dining, as well as the opening of indoor gyms and casinos. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

What’s open locally?

Hogan maintains that local jurisdictions can choose whether they are ready to initiate additional reopening within the municipality or county. This addresses differences across Maryland in terms of population and risk.

For example, as of June 24, Washington County reports 634 total cases while Montgomery County reports 14,283 total cases. The counties are less than 60 miles apart. Frederick County sits between the two aforementioned counties and reports 2,425 total cases on June 24.

Washington County

Washington County decided to follow the same timeline as the statewide reopening. The Hagerstown Premium Outlets reopened in May.

More details for Stage two reopening inWashington County are outlined here. As mentioned, there have been 634 total recorded cases in the county, and 26 people have died.

Frederick County

Frederick County also followed the June 5 start date for Stage two reopening. This includes further phased reopening outlined by the governor for June 12 and June 19. As mentioned there have been 2,425 total recorded cases in the county, and 109 people have died.

Montgomery County

Background: Montgomery County has stayed as the #2 Maryland county leading in the state for case totals and deaths, second to Prince George’s County. As mentioned, there have been 14,283 total recorded cases in the county, and 688 people have died.

Montgomery County delayed its Stage two reopening by two weeks, initiating it on June 19. Executive Marc Elrich County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said public health data was showing signs of improvement. More details on the county’s Stage two reopening can be read here.

The reopening included swimming pools, but with a capacity limit. The Department of Health and Human Services went further into the pool regulations in an interview with WDVM on June 19.

Likewise, reopening the malls in Montgomery County doesn’t mean everything returns to how it was before. This includes regulations on food courts and mall benches, which is detailed further here.

A new normal

With each lifting of restrictions, Hogan’s administration continues to enforce enhanced safety protocols so Marylanders can resume activities while staying aware and safe from the existing dangers of COVID-19.

Wear a mask/face covering. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention says the following on COVID-19 transmission:

COVID-19 spreads mainly from person-to-person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or talks. These droplets can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. 

The CDC says a cloth face covering may help prevent the spread of the virus. “Cloth face coverings provide an extra layer to help prevent the respiratory droplets from traveling in the air and onto other people.”

The CDC recommends anyone more than 2 years old should wear a mask in public areas where social distancing may be difficult to maintain. Anyone who has trouble breathing or is unable to remove the mask without assistance can be exempt.

Louisa Boyer, a provisional election judge, reviews paperwork at a voting center at Edmondson High School as voters arrive to cast their ballot in the 7th Congressional District special election, Tuesday, April 28, 2020, in Baltimore. The election to fill a seat left open by the death last October of Congressman Elijah Cummings has been dramatically reshaped by the coronavirus outbreak. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Increase sanitization and hand-washing. The CDC says to clean high touch surfaces regularly with soap and water, and follow with a disinfectant. High touch surfaces include:

  • Tables, doorknobs, light switches, countertops, handles, desks, phones, keyboards, toilets, faucets, sinks, etc.

The CDC recommends the following for hand-washing:

  • Key times to clean hands
    • Immediately after removing gloves and after contact with a person who is sick.
    • After blowing one’s nose, coughing, or sneezing
    • After using the restroom
    • Before eating or preparing food
    • After contact with animals or pets
    • Before and after providing routine care for another person who needs assistance (e.g. a child)
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • If soap and water are not readily available and hands are not visibly dirty, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. However, if hands are visibly dirty, always wash hands with soap and water.

WDVM continues to cover local and national news regarding the coronavirus. Visit our coronavirus page for more news.

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