Charles County hopes to not ‘move backwards’ in COVID-19 response

As health officers in several Maryland counties, including Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, have asked the state to return some COVID-19 restrictions, Charles County is cautiously looking forward.

“We would like to take the position of we can do better by adhering to the rules and not have to move backwards,” said Dr. Howard Haft, who leads the COVID-19 efforts for the Charles County Department of Health.

In a letter sent to the state Monday, health officers in Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City recommended returning some pandemic-related restrictions amid an uptick in confirmed cases in the state and across the U.S.

Though Haft urged a forward-looking path for Charles County, he said, “COVID continues to be at a community transmission level here in Charles County, around the state and around the nation.”

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In a county update Tuesday, Haft stressed the adherence to public health guidance to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, not just for businesses, but for residents, especially younger ones.

“Because we moved into Phase Two of our recovery, it doesn’t mean that we’re by any stretch of the imagination in clear sailing, out of the woods, or any other sort of metaphor that you might apply to this,” Haft said.

He understands that people may have cabin fever from staying inside, but emphasized the importance of wearing a face mask in public, social distancing and practicing good personal hygiene.

Over the past three days, there have been 47 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the county, according to Department of Emergency Services Director Michelle Lilly.

“Compared to mid-June, we have been on a slow rise in numbers since that time,” she said.

However, Lilly said, the number of deaths have been low, with three reported during the week of July 6 and one last week, pointing out trend lines continue to show a downward turn.

According to Maryland state data, Charles County has recorded 1,642 confirmed cases and around 90 likely deaths, as of Tuesday.

Lilly said the goal now is to continue expanding access to testing, which includes allowing residents to make their own appointments at testing centers without a doctor’s note.

Countywide, testing at Vehicle Emissions Inspection Program sites has also been expanded, allowing for more than 250 people to be tested daily at each location.

Testing in the county has also been on the rise with about 400 people a day. The county has a target of testing 500 or more.

Haft said around 9.8% of the county’s population has been tested, but the target is 10% or better. He encouraged people to get tested.

“We can make that testing available but unless people use it, we won’t get to the numbers that we need,” Haft said.

County officials are also focusing on making sure vulnerable individuals are aware of the risks they face. “Both the young and the old have a responsibility,” Haft added.

Bars and restaurants around Maryland are also a cause for concern. County officials are now working to make sure they are adhering to Gov. Larry Hogan’s orders and all health guidelines.

“We’re aware that there have been some violations by word-of-mouth. You can be sure that we’ll be doing unannounced visits to bars and restaurants in the evening hours,” Haft said.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

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