Saying the coronavirus pandemic had wreaked “an unimaginable toll on our community,” Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks issued an executive order extending countywide stay-at-home restrictions through June 1.
“We are very much still in the thick of this virus,” Alsobrooks said at a briefing Thursday.
She pointed out, however, that the county has suffered more than 10,000 cases and 356 deaths, currently averaging about nine deaths per day. “This is an astonishing number,” Alsobrooks said.
Case counts and hospitalizations are increasing, she said, adding that COVID-19 is now the leading cause of death in the county.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday that the state would enter Phase I of the easing of COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, but added that counties could make their own decisions about whether to take that step based on their case numbers.
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So, in Prince George’s County, nonessential businesses are still closed; restaurants are limited to takeout and delivery only; and places of worship need to hold virtual services.
If the county were to begin to lift restrictions, Alsobrooks said, “we’re not only going to lose more money; we’re going to lose more Prince Georgians.”
“We can’t reopen because we don’t have the resources that we need to do so safely,” Alsobrooks said. While thanking the state government for “seamless communication,” she said, “We have made certain requests, and we have not received the resources that we need to safely reopen.”
Though Maryland numbers may be improving to the point that Phase I can begin, Alsobrooks sought to downplay the division between statewide and county numbers.
“Prince George’s County residents are not just Prince Georgians; they’re Marylanders. And if Prince Georgians are sick, so is the state of Maryland,” she said.
She pointed out that Prince George’s and Montgomery counties make up about a third of the state’s population and around 40% of the income.
Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter said that some of the numbers were encouraging. Last weekend, the county hit a new high in hospitalizations at 262, and acute care patients reached 192. As of Thursday, those numbers were 204 and 136, respectively.
Still, all hospitals were operating above their normal capacity.
“This is an enormous challenge to our hospitals,” Carter said, “and we’re stepping up to the plate with enormous courage.”
He added, echoing comments form Alsobrooks, that Prince Georgians were doing well at following social distancing and stay-at-home orders.
“Our residents have done an outstanding job in terms of mitigation,” Carter said.
He said, however, that though the rate of increase in cases is slowing, the numbers are still rising. “We hope that we are getting toward flattening,” he said. “We will see.”
The curve may be flattening, Carter added, but, “We are not out of the woods.”
Nine deaths per day was still about three times the number needed to have the confidence to begin returning to normal. And testing, currently at about 5,000 per week in the county, needs to go at least 9,000, Carter said.
Asked whether there would come a point where economic and business decisions would lead to a lifting of restrictions before the numbers had gone down, Alsobrooks said, “We’re going to accept advice from the medical community. This is a health crisis …
“We’re not closed because we don’t care to open. We’re not closed because we don’t want businesses to open. We’re not closed because we enjoy having people stay in their houses. I want to get out; everyone wants to get out. But, right now, nine deaths per day say that it’s not safe for us to do that.”
She added that with commitment to the guidelines from residents, and help from the state and federal governments, “It’s not impossible” that the numbers will improve to the point that Phase I could begin in two weeks.
U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, D-Md., announced that the House was likely on Friday to pass the HEROES Act with $1 trillion in aid, including help for testing, and aid to state and local governments.
Brown added, “Surveys show that people [are] not interested in going back to businesses until public health officials could assure them that we’ve got this wrestled to the ground. … The economy won’t recover anyway.”
He said that Maryland on Wednesday received $206 million for testing capacity, as well as testing components from the federal government.
“I’m relieved that Maryland finally has all the components that it needs,” Brown said. “Now the administration needs to deploy them quickly … This is a commitment that the governor has made repeatedly, and now he needs to deliver.”
He pointed out that Maryland was still 27th in the nation in per capita testing.