Officials in Prince George’s County, Maryland, say they were braced for the potential of a big spike in new coronavirus cases after the Labor Day holiday that never ended up materializing. But even so, they aren’t ready to move into the next phase of reopening.
After the holiday weekend earlier this month, the positivity rate of COVID-19 tests in the county briefly ticked up to 5.4% — above a key threshold cited by the World Health Organization — before dipping back down to 4.1% more recently, said Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks during a news conference Thursday.
That’s still well above the statewide positivity rate of 2.67%.
Other metrics, such as the infection rate and the number of new daily cases per 100,000 residents, “must come down before we are comfortable moving to the next phase,” Alsobrooks said.
She said the county would next review the data in two to three weeks and take recommendations from the county’s health officials about whether to move into Phase Three.
Earlier this month, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state was moving into Phase Three of its reopening plan, under which most businesses can reopen with restrictions, but local officials were given the all-clear to move more slowly in reopening their jurisdictions.
Prince George’s County, along with neighboring Montgomery County, decided to stay in Phase Two.
“This is a long haul,” said county Health Officer Dr. Earl Carter. “We need to be a bit more cautious in our reopening. There are still too many COVID tests coming back positive in the county to feel comfortable to move to Phase Three.”
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Carter said the number of new cases per day has been hard to get a handle on. “It crept down a little bit … In the summer, it ticked back up, and it keeps bouncing around,” he said.
The decline in the county’s positivity rate — to just above 4% — “is good news,” Carter added. But he said the county has not consistently stayed below the 5% mark.
In addition, the infection rate — which measures, on average, how many other people a COVID-19 patient infects with the virus — “has been really stubborn,” he said. Currently, that number is 1.05. The goal is below 0.9.
Regarding the numbers, Carter added, “We have to stay really vigilant, especially when we know that we can tick back up at any time.”
It’s not all bad news. Carter said the county has plenty of space in its hospitals to care for the ill. About 60% of ICU and acute beds are available.
Earlier Thursday, during a news conference, the governor discussed school reopening plans, pointing to the state’s downward-trending COVID-19 metrics.
Alsobrooks said she is “very comfortable” with Prince George’s County Public Schools’ decision to keep virtual learning in place through the end of January.
“At this point, given all of the information we have, we believe that the safest route for us is to continue the distance learning,” Alsobrooks said.
She said surveys would be sent to parents at the end of December about whether they would prefer hybrid learning, with some students in brick-and-mortar classrooms, or to continue distance learning.
“We don’t know yet what the fall will bring … We think there is great risk involved in moving out of the posture we’re in right now,” Alsobrooks said.