No new restrictions in Prince George’s County despite COVID-19 uptick

The coronavirus numbers are taking a bit of a turn for the worse in Prince George’s County, Maryland, but the county executive and health officer aren’t ready to reinstitute widespread restrictions yet. Instead, they’re reminding residents of the importance of sticking to the rules that are already in place.

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said during a briefing Thursday that the county saw more than 900 cases of COVID-19 during the week of July 12, up from 581 the week before. And the daily average of hospital inpatients went from 45 to 62 over the same time frame.

“COVID-19 is still very much around us,” added Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter.

It’s been two months since the county’s caseload was that high, and while some of the new increase is down to more testing, adherence to physical distancing and mask requirements “have not been as robust” as they should be, countywide and nationwide, he said.

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The infection rate — the average number of people each infected person goes on to infect — is at about 1.1. That’s “still too high,” Carter said. “That puts us at high risk for an outbreak.”

Both officials pointed to younger adults and people going to family gatherings and parties as key factors in the latest increases.

“Family gatherings and parties have been a major source of transmission over the past few weeks,” Alsobrooks said, adding that 67% of new infections have been traced to such gatherings.

Carter said that half of the county’s most recent cases are among people in their 20s and 30s.

He reminded residents that no prescription, symptoms, appointment or insurance is needed to get a test at Department of Health testing sites.

Carter also implored residents to comply with contact tracers: “If you see on your Caller ID ‘MD COVID,’ please answer it.”

He added, “If you expect to come within 6 feet of someone who is not a member of your household, you must wear a mask. … You’re safer at home.”

Alsobrooks said that most businesses have been complying with the regulations. One martial-arts studio in the county has had to be shut down, but no other business have so much as been hit with the $1,000 fine for a second violation, she said.

But parties in private houses are another matter — “there’s one in every crowd” who tries to get around the rules, such as at the house commonly known as the Broadwater Mansion, which Alsobrooks said has been “shut down” after reports of multiple parties with hundreds of people over the last few months.

Upcoming election

Alsobrooks said she and leaders in other counties had written to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, urging him to reverse his decision on how to hold the November election.

Unlike the primary in June, when mail-in ballots were mailed to each voter, voters will receive mail-in ballot requests.

She said that in the county, a normal election takes about 3,500 volunteers, and only about 34% of poll workers surveyed said they will work this Election Day. And a lot of venues that usually serve as polling places have opted out of doing so, especially senior centers, she added.

She’s asking for ballots to be mailed to all voters: “Instead of mailing ballot applications, just mail the ballots,” Alsobrooks said.

She also wants to extend the early-voting timeline and expand early voting to 15 sites, and then only use those sites on Election Day.

Alsobrooks pointed to the primary election in Georgia, which used a system similar to the one Hogan is instituting, where many people didn’t get their ballot applications in time to get their ballots, and ended up standing in long lines to cast ballots in person anyway.

“It just didn’t work,” she said, adding that June’s primary in Maryland saw the highest voter turnout since the 2008 presidential election.

Alsobrooks also reminded residents that you don’t have to wait to get the state’s mail-in ballot application; go to the board of elections website and ask for it yourself.

Mack death investigation

Both Alsobrooks and Carter expressed sympathy to the family of Chantee Mack, a county health department worker who died of COVID-19 in the spring eight weeks after being denied permission to work from home. Both officials added that an investigation was being done.

“Miss Mack’s death hurts all of us,” Alsobrooks said. “We believed it deserved an investigation. I want to know what happened, and I know Dr. Carter wants to know what else we can do” to keep workers safe.

Carter said the health department followed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines that were in effect at the time; Alsobrooks said, “What we knew in March is different from what we know in July. … As we know better, we are going to continue to do better.”

“We are so sorry,” she added.

The coronavirus infected at least 20 department employees, some of whom had attended a staff meeting where they sat close together, union leaders told The Associated Press.

Public health workers in other states, including Ohio, Oregon, California and Georgia, have also contracted the coronavirus, and in some cases, even worked throughout their sickness to address the ongoing pandemic.

But the Prince George’s County department outbreak was among the worst — and occurred as workers dealt with a community caseload that eventually surpassed 21,000, which was more than any other county in Maryland.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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