Prince George’s County leaders tout COVID-19 progress, urge continued caution

The county executive and health officer of Prince George’s County, Maryland, said that the main metrics for COVID-19 continue to look good, but they also urged residents to continue with safety measures such as mask wearing and social distancing.

“Our cases have been dropping precipitously,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said at a media briefing Thursday.

She added that 10,000 tests were conducted during the week of June 21, and that the percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive — a key measure of whether enough testing is being done — continues to decline.

At its height, the positivity rate in the county was 43% in April; during the week of June 28, it was 6.5%. “This is astonishing,” Alsobrooks said.

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County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter offered more hopeful numbers: There are currently 38 in county hospitals being treated for COVID-19, down from a high of 262. The number of hospitalizations has been under 70 for two weeks, and 60% of ICU beds in the county are available.

There have been fewer than 1,000 new cases a week for about a month, Carter said, and last week saw 20 deaths, down 74% from the high.

That said, Carter cited one ominous sign: Each infected person in the county went on to infect an average of .92 people in the most recent numbers, up from .72, putting the county at a “medium risk of spread,” he said.

The numbers come as cases of the virus spike nationwide, and both Alsobrooks and Carter noted that.

“This is no time to relax,” Carter said. “We’ve all heard about infection spikes in other states. Prince George’s County is not immune to that.”

“I’m concerned” about spikes elsewhere, particularly the South, Alsobrooks said. “What we experienced here was significant. I remain nervous about it, but I have a lot of confidence in Prince Georgians.”

“COVID-19 will not have the final say, but it is not finished yet,” Alsobrooks added.

Carter emphasized the importance of contact tracing — the ability for investigators to figure out whom an infected person has come into contact with and let those people know they need to isolate themselves.

Contact tracers will not ask questions about anything other than contacts, such as immigration status or anything else. He stressed, “If you see MD COVID on your Caller ID, answer it.”

Alsobrooks also announced the opening next week of a new testing site at the D. Leonard Dyer Regional Health Center, in Clinton.

School decisions

As school systems across the country weigh their options for the beginning of school, which in some cases is only about six weeks away, Alsobrooks said she has been talking to schools CEO Dr. Monica Goldson about the county’s plans.

Alsobrooks said she wanted students to return to class in person, but that the numbers and the medical professionals would dictate the response.

“Our most important priority is the health, safety and well-being of our students,” she said.

Pointing out that several teachers have died and about a quarter of the school department’s staff have co-morbidities that could cause COVID-19 to hit them harder than most, she added, “We know this is no joke.”

At the same time, Alsobrooks said she was concerned about the possibility of an achievement gap among county students; “we have to balance” different imperatives, she said.

There’ll be a town hall to hear from parents on the subject next week, she added.

“I would like to have them in class, but we are going to follow the advice we receive from the medical community,” Alsobrooks said.

Police chief search

Alsobrooks also said the search for a new police chief will be similar to that of the search for the schools CEO, and that she welcomed all input.

She said the county would hire a search firm and seek input from the community, police union and police leadership.

“It is our desire to listen to every part of our community,” she said. “We’re not afraid to hear from everybody.”

Alsobrooks said that the ideal candidate would help implement measures from the police reform commission established last week, and would “understand Prince Georgians and [that] you can’t represent people you don’t know or understand.”

The commission’s report is due Oct. 30.

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