As COVID-19 numbers climb, Anne Arundel officials eye reinstating restrictions

Citing a rise in all metrics related to the coronavirus pandemic, Anne Arundel County, Maryland, officials said in a briefing Tuesday that they’re looking at reinstating some of the closures and restrictions that have recently been lifted.

“Our coronavirus numbers are up,” County Executive Steuart Pittman said at a virtual briefing Tuesday morning; he added, “Did those changes cause us to go from lowering to raising our numbers of cases?”

That possibility has him talking with other county executives in the area, as well as other leaders in the public and private sectors, about “possible rollbacks, possible changes.”

He and Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman had the numbers. The rate of spread – the average number of people each infected person goes on to infect – is currently 1.28, higher than the statewide rate of 1.18, Pittman said. Both numbers had been under 1, meaning the virus had been contracting rather than expanding.

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Kalyanaraman said cases were up for the third consecutive week, and that hospitalizations were also on the rise. He said the increased rate of spread meant that the growth in case numbers couldn’t simply be tied to an increase in testing.

The doctor said that the increase in rate of spread in Anne Arundel County was similar to that of Baltimore City, and Baltimore and Howard counties, while Montgomery and Prince George’s counties “are a bit behind us” in terms of a rebound of the virus.

“They didn’t reopen as fast as we did,” Kalyanaraman said.

Kalyanaraman is one of the county health officers who wrote a letter to the state Monday asking for the reinstatement of restrictions on bars and restaurants.

He added that more cases in the county were being discovered among people between their teens and mid-30s, and that contact tracers had found that the typical number of people each patient had been in contact with had gone way up, from three or four to between 10 and 20, in large part because younger people were more likely to have gone to parties, restaurants, bars and malls, where they come into contact with people they don’t even know and thus can’t report to tracers.

Kalyanaraman added that cellphone data indicated that people are now moving around about as much as they were before the pandemic.

Between those two factors, “That’s a massive amount of potential spread,” he said.

Kalyanaraman added that the spread of the virus may seem gradual at first, but as has been shown in the early days of the virus and in other parts of the country recently, it doesn’t stay that way.

“If we don’t take action … We will see a gradual rise in cases, followed by a steep rise in cases,” he said.

At the time of the lifting of restrictions last month, Pittman said, “I announced that we probably would be going slower, except that it is so difficult from a public health standpoint and a planning standpoint to move at a different pace than other counties.”

Similarly, Pittman said, the county wasn’t going ahead with its own re-institution of safety restrictions just yet because they were hoping Gov. Larry Hogan would announce statewide rule changes.

But, depending on conversations with other county leaders, they could make their own decision: “We could move as early as Thursday.”

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