ANNAPOLIS, MD — The coronavirus is still running rampant in Maryland. After the state's worst week in months, Gov. Larry Hogan announced new dining and travel restrictions on Tuesday.
Starting Wednesday at 5 p.m., all restaurants and bars must return to half capacity. These businesses were previously allowed to operate at 75 percent capacity in all but four jurisdictions.
All Maryland businesses may remain open, however, and the state will stay in Stage 3 of coronavirus recovery. The governor clarified that he may take further actions if the situation worsens.
"We’re trying to keep small businesses from failing and going under, but we also are trying to keep people alive," Hogan said. "That’s the delicate balance."
As coronavirus regulations tighten, the governor prompted local leaders to step up their enforcement. Hogan applauded Anne Arundel County and Baltimore City for cracking down on violators.
"They’ve got to start kind of dropping a hammer on the bad apples because that’s where a lot of the spread is taking place," he added.
Hogan also upped the state's coronavirus travel advisory. Maryland previously asked residents not to visit states where the positivity rate exceeds 10 percent. The state urged residents who traveled anyway to get tested when they returned.
Now, Marylanders are "strongly advised against" nonessential travel to states and territories with:
A positivity rate greater than 10 percent over a rolling week
Or a case rate greater 20 new infections-per-day per 100,000 residents over a rolling week
That restricts nonessential travel to and from 38 states and territories. Anyone visits these places should get tested as soon as they return and isolate until they get their results, Hogan noted.
"This deadly virus does not recognize state borders," Hogan said, recognizing that the policy offers strong guidance, not enforceable law.
The affected states are listed and ranked by their case rate below:
North Dakota (155.8)
South Dakota (130.8)
New Mexico (52.2)
Rhode Island (47.4)
Guam (38.7 )
West Virginia (27.9)
New Jersey (24)
North Carolina (22.9
South Carolina (21.5)
The Maryland Department of Health also issued advice Tuesday. Health officials discouraged indoor social gatherings of more than 25 people and formalized their plan to handle hospital influxes.
Where Coronavirus May Be Spreading
The governor noted that too many residents have eased up on their coronavirus prevention measures. This relaxation has led to the long-foreshadowed fall surge.
Maryland's cases are multiplying faster than ever. The state has seen seven straight days with more than 1,000 new coronavirus infections. That's led hospitalizations and the positivity rate to their highest levels since June.
Last week, Hogan cautioned Marylanders of the rising coronavirus tide. This time around, he sounded the alarm.
"We cannot afford to ignore these trends and patterns," Hogan said. "Today, I’m reporting that we have now crossed over into the danger zone."
Hogan has frequently warned that social gatherings are a major source of viral spread. Contact tracers started tracking these data on July 10.
Since then, 14 percent of respondents said they went to a gathering of 10 or more people before catching the virus. Family events and house parties are the most-reported get-togethers among coronavirus patients.
About 43 percent of interviewees said they went to a high-risk location in the 14 days before testing positive. Working in a communal space, going shopping and dining at a restaurant or bar are the most commonly-reported risky activities, data suggest.
"Marylanders crushed the curve once before," Hogan said. "We can and we will do it again with your help."
Coronavirus Case Rate
Health officials focus on several metrics to evaluate the coronavirus pandemic. The most frequently-used are the case rate, hospitalizations and percent positivity.
Theis a per-capita measure that makes it easy to compare places with different populations. A state's case rate is the average number of new coronavirus infections-per-day that it registers over a rolling week per 100,000 people.
As a barometer, Maryland health officials say expanded in-person school classes are probably safe when the local case rate dips below 5. Right now, the state's case rate has spiked to 19.79. That's Maryland's highest mark since the pandemic started.
The state's case rate hit previous peaks of 18.03 on May 7 and 15.55 on July 31. It reached lows of 5.6 on June 24 and 7.63 on Sept. 26, but it's been an upward climb since then.
have also pointed upward. The disease left 761 Marylanders hospitalized on Tuesday, which is the most since June 13.
Hospitalizations are down from the state's April 30 high of 1,711, but they have leaped above summertime lows. As recently as Sept. 20, 281 people were in the hospital. That state has seen a steady increase for the last six weeks.
Covid ActNow, a coronavirus statistics website, estimates that Maryland has 1,107 beds in the intensive care unit. The organization says the state can dedicate about around 609 of those beds to coronavirus patients.
On Tuesday, Maryland had 176 patients in the ICU with the virus. That's the most since June 27. ICU hospitalizations maxed out at 611 on May 10 and receded to 68 by Sept. 20.
Health officials worry that the worst wave of hospitalizations may be on the horizon. Some models project that the winter months could be the most challenging, said Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services and Systems.
"As we know too well, many people may die," Delbridge said, encouraging everybody to get a flu shot. "We are in a marathon and not a sprint. Please don’t give up."
Maryland's positivity rate is also on the upswing. This is the percentage of coronavirus tests that come back positive over a moving seven days. The statistic also measures whether an area has enough testing to identify most of its infections.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says a positivity rate of less than 5 percent demonstrates that a region has enough testing to control its outbreak. The Maryland Department of Health says hybrid learning should be safe when jurisdictions fall beneath this benchmark.
The state's positivity rate has ascended to 5.24 percent. That's down from its April 17 high of 26.88 percent, but it's up from its Sept. 24 low of 2.51 percent.
Maryland stayed beneath the 5 percent positivity threshold for 136 days. That streak, which started on June 25, came to an end Sunday.
Total Cases And Deaths
Maryland has 156,709 total coronavirus infections. The virus is blamed for the death of 4,084 Marylanders. Eighty-four of those deaths came in the last 10 days.
How We Got Here
Hogan first declared a state of emergency on March 5 after Maryland registered its first three cases of coronavirus. The governor then issued a stay-at-home order on March 30, forcing all nonessential businesses to close.
That order expired on May 15 when Maryland entered Stage 1 of recovery. This allowed shops and religious facilities to reopen at 50 percent capacity.
Restuarants could not reopen until the state moved into to the second phase on May 30. Eateries could only open for outdoor dining at the time. Restaurants were cleared for indoor service on June 12, but they were capped at half capacity.
The state transitioned into the third and final period of healing on Sept. 4. That permitted all Maryland businesses to reopen at their jurisdiction's discretion. Some counties moved slower, however.
Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Prince George's County never moved into Stage 3. About 61 percent of the state's infections come from these four jurisdictions.
On Sept. 21, restauarants expanded their indoor capacities to 75 percent. The four slower districts never made this switch.
Baltimore City never made it to half capacity either. Its restaurants and bars are still capped at 25 percent capacity.
Counties can be more restrictive than the state, but they may never be more lenient.
"They can, and they should take those actions," Hogan said. "Local leaders will have our full support."
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