With Maryland looking to start easing pandemic-related restrictions on Friday, Anne Arundel County detailed what it is comfortable easing and what it is maintaining.
County Executive Steuart Pittman said coronavirus infection rates are holding steady, and his administration would like to see a decline.
“But, we haven’t seen it,” he said during a briefing Thursday afternoon.
Pittman said that he wants to be comfortable that the county has a 14-day supply of personal protective equipment for hospitals, first responders and other health care providers but, “We’re not there yet,” with the most difficult to acquire being hospital gowns.
And, with elective surgeries starting back up, the supply is even more scarce. Pittman said the county is working hard to get more PPEs, and the availability is better than it was two weeks ago. “But we’re still trying to get to the point where we feel like we’re comfortable with our stock.”
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As for testing, Pittman said some 2.3% of the county’s population have been tested, and he would like to get to the point of sustained testing of 2% of the population every week.
Pittman said the 500,000 tests that Maryland acquired from South Korea last month have not yet been available to the county.
“I think that’s been covered widely that swabs and reagents are needed to be able to use those kits,” he said, adding that the county has its own contract with LabCorp.
“But the numbers are still not where we’d like them to be to really get a handle on the situation,” Pittman said.
What the county is keeping ahead of is contact tracing, Pittman told reporters, saying that they are “head and shoulders” above others in the country, with over 100 contact tracers, including school health staff, deployed to do it.
Pittman also said that there are more new cases per day currently than in the beginning when the restrictions were first put in place,
“We had a couple of good days down in the 20s of new cases, now we’re back up around 70, and it’s still growing,” he said. “We feel good that it has not continued to increase in its rate.”
Considering the metrics for reopening and where Anne Arundel County falls, Pittman then discussed what the county is doing in response to the statewide lifting of restrictions.
Pittman said that the county is comfortable with what Hogan has proposed regarding manufacturing businesses, and it can move forward with appropriate social distancing that are in the state law.
However, the easing of retail operations — up to 50% capacity per the governor’s suggestion — is not something the county is comfortable doing.
“We believe that will create a spike,” Pittman said. In terms of capacity, county officials looked at what the fire marshals said, which are some pretty high numbers that they are “not comfortable with.”
Instead, Anne Arundel County retail stores will be allowed to open if they choose to for curbside pickup only.
Hair salons and beauty shops can be open by appointment only, with one customer at a time. Those waiting their turn should stay in their vehicles. Hogan had said that these businesses can be open by appointment only and at 50% capacity.
Pittman said that they are comfortable that people do not have to produce a note from their employer saying that they need to get haircut.
“But we have to keep the numbers down within those facilities and have folks going in one at a time. And waiting in their cars, rather than waiting in the waiting rooms,” Pittman said.
As for religious gatherings, the county is not comfortable with the governor’s order that allows houses of worship to gather at 50% capacity, “so we will not be allowing that,” Pittman said. “We think that the spread would be devastating if we allowed that.” Pittman said it falls back on the 10-person-maximum gathering rule.
Some of the churches in the county have very large congregations, he added. Pittman’s staff met with the United Black Clergy of Anne Arundel County Thursday and were encouraged to maintain restrictions on these gatherings.
Going slow ‘so we don’t have to hit the brakes real hard’
“In a measured way, (we’re) allowing ourselves to reopen slowly so we can make sure that we are doing the right thing,” Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said.
The underlying principle in what the county is allowing is to not create a situation where more customers are mingling.
Instead of creating more physical interactions, “We’re creating measured interactions. And that will allow us to measure these changes and monitor them,” Kalyanaraman said.
Kalyanaraman said that it will take at least four weeks for the changes to show up in the data, and no further changes would be made between now and then so that they can see the effects of the changes.
“We need to let that appear in our data so we can make an informed decision again. And that’s really a key part of this. How do we go slow enough so we don’t have to hit the brakes real hard?” Kalyanaraman said, adding that prevention is invisible.
“When we’re doing well, it feels like we need to take our foot off. But the reason we’re doing better is because we put all these measures in place.”
Anne Arundel high schools plan 4 ways to salute seniors
With the announcement from state Superintendent Karen Salmon that school buildings across Maryland will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, Anne Arundel County Public Schools has come up with four ways to celebrate its graduating seniors.
Although a traditional graduation is not able to take place, “I refuse to let the circumstances eradicate our ability to celebrate our awesome seniors,” county Superintendent George Arlotto said in a letter to the schools.
From May 26-28 on the schools’ radio station CRAB Radio (104.7 FM), there will be audio tributes about seniors from teachers and counselors. These will also be posted on each school’s website.
Each school will create an online senior awards event to honor the class of 2020.
A digital commencement celebration will be broadcast on AACPS-TV and the school system’s YouTube and livestream channels. The names of the graduates will be announced, along with their photos. There will be a speeches by graduates, a member of the board of education and the school principal. Then, there will be a turning of the tassel.
Lastly, there will be a cap and gown gala for all high schools in late July, where members of the class of 2020 can gather, put on their caps and gown, have their names announced, process across the stage and have their photos taken.
These will take place with appropriate social distancing, the school system said.
The gala will be open only to graduates and not families, and would only take place if the state is in a phase that would allow it and with the approval of the county’s health officer.
A decision will be made by July 1.