ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — The fight against coronavirus is not over, according to Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman. He unveiled new regulations to limit the spread of the virus.
Effective Friday at 5 p.m., the county has reinstated limits on social gatherings and late-night dining. Businesses will now face a fine for violating coronavirus regulations.
Indoor gatherings are capped at 25 people. Outdoor gatherings are restricted to 50.
The order says social gatherings are congregations of people that do not involve patronizing or operating a business or spiritual facility. Restaurants, bars, stores, casinos, offices, religious buildings and youth sports teams do not fall under the social gathering restrictions.
Restaurants and bars still must operate at 50 percent capacity and keep tables at least 6 feet apart. Customers and workers are still required to wear a mask in all public places where they cannot socially distance. This includes indoor and outdoor venues, as well as busy common areas like sidewalks.
Restaurants and bars must stop all indoor service by 10 p.m., Pittman’s executive order states. Food courts inside shopping malls can no longer have dine-in seating, but they may continue serving carry-out. Malls and the stores inside can stay open.
The mandate institutes a $500 fine for businesses that break these coronavirus regulations. Previously, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health had relied on education rather than punishment to address violators.
Now, the department will fine businesses on their first violation. A second infraction wields a $1,000 fine. A third breach carries a $5,000 fine. With any more offenses, a business owner could face up to year in prison.
Pittman cites the increasing rate of infection as the main reason for signing the executive order. The rate of infection is how many people, on average, each coronavirus patient shares the virus with.
If the rate of infection is less than 1.0, the number of coronavirus cases will decline. When it is exactly 1.0, cases will grow at manageable, linear rate. Should the rate of infection exceed 1.0, the coronavirus cases will climb at an exponential clip.
The county’s infection rate peaked at 1.8 in mid-March and hit a low of 0.8 on June 18. The rate of infection started to rise when the county moved into phase two of its reopening plan on June 19. Now, the infection rate has reached 1.25.
“Rates of infection are a direct function of our behavior,” Pittman said in a news release Thursday. “Two weeks after the last reopenings, our rates surged to a level that could eventually require a devastating shutdown of economic and personal activity. We must keep Anne Arundel open, so we must respond immediately to our data.”
Anne Arundel County counted 85 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, data show. That was the second most since June 15 when the county tallied a record-high 128 new cases.
New cases bottomed out at 10 on June 23. The county has confirmed 6,229 coronavirus cases and 206 related deaths.
Hospitalizations remain relatively low, but they are on the rise. As of Thursday, coronavirus had 46 Anne Arundel County residents in the hospital. That's the most hospitalizations the county has had since June 17.
Hospitalizations peaked at 172 on April 21. Fewer than 50 people have been hospitalized at a time since June 14. Hospitalizations reached a low of 25 on July 12.
While 46 hospital beds is a fraction of the county's health care occupancy, a slight flood of the system could be problematic, according to County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman. When coronavirus first started to consume hospitals, they canceled routine or unnecessary treatments. Now that hospitals have reopened their doors for elective care, they have fewer vacancies than they did during the onslaught of the virus, he said.
Anne Arundel County has the fifth most confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, according to the latest report from the Maryland Department of Health.
Gov. Larry Hogan's recent push has focused on testing at least 10 percent of every jurisdiction in the state. This will help identify the true scope of the virus, he says.
Anne Arundel County recently became the 17th of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions to pass the benchmark. The county has tested 11.4 percent of its population.
Now, the county's goal turns to testing 2 percent of its population every week. That totals about 11,000 weekly tests.
Kalyanaraman announced that goal on July 9. In the first week tracking that statistic, Anne Arundel County tested 1.5 percent of its population, conducting about 8,300 coronavirus tests.
The county understands that expanding testing will grow coronavirus totals. Kalyanaraman encourages residents to use the positivity rate as a gauge to determine whether the pandemic is worsening or whether testing is just identifying more patients.
Even with mass testing, a higher percentage of tests coming back positive indicates a growing problem. A lower positivity rate paired with high case totals shows that the spread is still growing, but at a more manageable rate.
Kalyanaraman said that a 5 percent positivity rate is a strong barometer for the county's control of the virus. If the county remains under that benchmark, things are heading in the right direction. The county's positivity rate, however, is threatening that threshold, Kalyanaraman said.
The county registered its highest positivity rate of 28.24 percent on April 16. The county's lowest rate of 3.25 percent came on July 12. Thursday's 4.33 percent positivity is the highest since June 21 when the county saw 5.41 percent of coronavirus tests come back positive.
“We’re all in this together,” Kalyanaraman said in the press release. “Each of us is responsible to do the right thing, which includes using a mask, distancing and hand washing. Today’s actions are necessary because not everybody is practicing these behaviors, and we are seeing increased cases and hospitalizations. Our goal is to open schools and following these new guidelines is a key part of making that happen.”
Anne Arundel County Public Schools announced on Monday that it will not host in-person classes for the entirety of the fall semester.
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