Hogan re-imposes health curbs: ‘Virus is winning’

A spike in Covid-19 cases has state and local health and government leaders concerned with the approaching holiday season and cold winter months, and prompted Gov. Larry Hogan to give a dire warning to Maryland residents.

“This is not the flu, it’s not fake news, it’s not going to magically disappear just because we’re all tired of it and we want our normal lives back,” the governor said during a Tuesday afternoon news conference. “We are in a war right now and the virus is winning.”

In some parts of the country, hospitals are at capacity and the virus is raging. While Maryland has not yet seen the same surge level, Hogan said he is anxiously watching the capacity rates across the state. He joined with the White House Coronavirus Task Force on Monday and attended an emergency meeting of the National Governors Association on Tuesday. On Thursday, he is scheduled to meet with President-elect Joe Biden on the Covid-19 response.

The governor also announced additional restrictions on businesses, including setting a 10 p.m. closing time on dine-in services at all bars and restaurants.

As of Tuesday, there have been 2,956 confirmed cases of the virus in Wicomico County since the pandemic began, with 55 deaths, according to state health officials.

Wicomico County’s current positivity rate is 6.9 percent, which is slightly higher than the state rate of 6.85 percent.

“We’re in a much worse place than we were in the spring, which I don’t think many of us thought was possible,” City Administrator Julia Glanz said during a recent meeting of the Salisbury Coronavirus Recovery Task Force.

The surge in new infections has caused local health officials to add another day of drive-through testing to its schedule, Wicomico County Health Officer Lori Brewster told Wicomico County Council members on Tuesday.

In addition to the ongoing Wednesday testing, the health department started this week to offer the tests on Tuesday mornings as well, she said.

Both days filled up so quickly that more testing was scheduled for this Thursday as well, she said.

Community members may call 410-912-6889 to set up an appointment for a Covid-19 test on Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon or Wednesdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

The testing is held at the health department’s Fritz Building, 300 West Carroll St., Salisbury. No doctor’s referral is needed. An appointment is required.

The additional testing day is the result of a partnership between the health department and TidalHealth Peninsula Regional.

“Expanded testing was identified as a need in our community, which has resulted in this partnership,” Brewster said.

With cold weather approaching, the health department has an agreement with the Salisbury Fire Department to hold the drive-through testing during the winter months in the ambulance bay at the Cypress Street station which is temperature controlled, she said.

New state restrictions

Hogan on Tuesday announced more restrictions to help slow the spread of Covid-19 in Maryland. They include:

  • Dine-in services at bars, restaurants and other establishments must close at 10 p.m., effective Friday at 5 p.m.
  • All retail stores, organizations, religious institutions, personal services, bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, skating rinks, fitness centers and social clubs must maintain 50 percent capacity levels.
  • Fans will not be permitted in professional or collegiate stadiums or at racetracks.

The latest orders followed restrictions the governor imposed last week. They are:

  • Reduce indoor operations for bars and restaurants from 75 percent to 50 percent.
  • Limit indoor gatherings to 25 or less after contact tracing data showed an uptick in cases resulting from family gatherings and house parties. 
  • Expanded out-of-state travel advisory after contact tracing data showing an uptick in confirmed cases connected to travel outside of the state. Marylanders are strongly advised against traveling to any state with a positivity rate above 10 percent or any state with average case rates above 20 per 100,000. Anyone traveling from these states should get tested and self-quarantine while awaiting results.
  • Government offices to return to mandatory teleworking. 

Hogan also stressed that the statewide mask requirement remains in effect in all indoor public spaces, public transportation and outdoors where physical distancing is not possible.

“This very simple step of wearing a mask continues to be the single best mitigation strategy that we have to fight the virus,” he said.

Community spread

Health officials have seen the highest number of infections among people ages 25 to 44, who have a 10.8 percent positivity rate, Brewster said. They are followed by the 15 to 25 age group with a positivity rate of 7.14 percent.

The majority of Covid-19 cases are coming from large family gatherings, house parties and large outdoor events where an asymptomatic person may unknowingly spread the virus to others, she said.

The good news is that there seem to be fewer severe cases requiring hospitalization than there were in the spring, but health officials are keeping an eye on hospitals during the current case spike, Brewster said.

TidalHealth Peninsula Regional has had 640 admissions since the pandemic began. As of last Tuesday, there are 28 Covid patients in the hospital, Chris Hall, TidalHealth’s Vice President of Strategy & Business Development, said during last week’s task force meeting.

Although the numbers are low compared to the nation as a whole, the virus is causing a strain on the team which has been working nonstop since March, he said.

The recent spike in cases has caused the hospital to end visiting hours for safety reasons, Hall said.

Brewster said two new vaccines could be available locally as soon as early December for health care workers and first responders. The second round will go to the elderly and people who work in jobs where they could be exposed to the virus. The vaccine will eventually be available to the general public, probably sometime in the spring, she said.

In the meantime, Brewster said she knows that people are growing weary of the isolation, the fear, mask wearing and social distancing brought about by the pandemic.

“Believe me, the Health Department is Covid fatigued as well,” she said.

Help for restaurants

This week, Salisbury- Wicomico Economic Development began accepting applications for its new Restaurant Relief Grant Fund. The application concludes this Friday, Nov. 20, at 4 pm.

Grants up to $15,000 are available for restaurants in Wicomico County that have been significantly and negatively impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, especially with regard to indoor dining capacity.

Wicomico County Acting Executive John Psota said “we appreciate the state of Maryland’s partnership and in recognizing the challenges facing our restaurant industry. A special thank you to SWED once again for your leadership in helping small businesses throughout Wicomico County mitigate the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Targeted grant amounts consist of three levels — $5,000, $10,000 and $15,000 — and are based on the number of full-time equivalent employees.

Grant funds may be used for expenditures incurred or to be incurred between March 1 and Dec. 30. Eligible expenditures are:

Working capital for rent, payroll and job training.

  • Purchase of equipment and services to expand outdoor dining capacity (such as tents, heaters, warmers and carts).
  • Infrastructure improvements such as HVAC upgrades.
  • Technology to support carryout and delivery.
  • Purchase of PPE, disposable food containers and utensils.
  • Sanitation services.

Actual grant awards are expected to commence on Monday, Nov. 23. More information and an online application can be found at swed.org.

The numbers

Somerset County has seen a large spike in cases over the past month resulting in a positivity rate of 11.08 percent. State health officials are now directing additional resources to the county, Brewster said. The patient count in Somerset is now 575, compared to 277 cases on Oct. 1. There have been eight deaths in the county.

Wicomico County has had 2,956 confirmed cases with 55 deaths.

Additional Covid-19 cases have also been confirmed in Worcester County, which now reports 1,377 people as having the virus and 31 deaths.

Dorchester County counts 918 cases with 14 deaths. There are 819 reported cases in Caroline County with nine deaths.

Statewide in Maryland, 169,805 cases have been confirmed, with 4,186 deaths reported. The current hospitalization totals of people with the virus stands at 1,046.

Across Maryland, more than 1.9 million people have tested negative for the virus.

Nationally, there are now more than 11 million cases with 247,263 deaths as of Tuesday.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Maryland Department of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage

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