Prince George’s County, Maryland, will not move into Phase Three of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday.
On Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced that counties could move into Phase Three, which allows the opening of virtually all businesses with restrictions, starting Friday at 5 p.m.
“What I can tell you about Prince George’s County is, we are not there yet,” Alsobrooks said.
Alsobrooks said that the county is “still working to recover” from the spike in COVID-19 infections over the July 4 holiday, and with the Labor day holiday coming up, “It is important not to become complacent.”
She said that while the county’s COVID-19 test positivity rate was at 4.1%, 13 ZIP codes in the county remain over the critical 5% positivity mark. She said the county’s daily rate Thursday was 11.4 cases per 100,000 people, above the state rate of 8.7.
See more information on what happens in Maryland’s Phase Three.
‘It’s not safe’
“It’s not safe for us to move to Phase Three yet,” Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter said.
Another surge in infections related to Labor Day weekend gatherings would take months to recover. “We’ve done that twice already,” he said.
“Our numbers shot back up” after July 4, Carter said, adding that 1 in 4 Maryland cases and 1 out of 5 deaths are Prince George’s residents.
The infection rate — the average number of people each patient spreads the virus to, according to contact tracing — is at 0.92%, which means the virus is slowly contracting, but that rate is still higher than it was before the July 4 holiday, Carter said.
The positivity rate slowly declined through August and is now at 4.1%. Carter said the rate has only been below 5% for two weeks.
“We should be very cautious in assuming that this will continue to go down,” Carter said.
Carter said he understood the problems of small businesses under COVID-19 restrictions; he owned several clinics during the 2008-2009 recession. Of the difficulties of losing money and laying workers off, “I’ve lived through that,” Carter said.
Asked about the concept of herd immunity eventually protecting residents, Carter said, “Herd immunity is not a public health solution,” adding that about 30,000 county residents would have died if no measures were taken. He said that making such an argument “some people will die and that’s OK.”
He compared the idea with Europe’s experience with the Black Plague: “They acquired herd immunity – but they lost millions of people.”
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Alsobrooks also spoke of the importance of voting in November’s election. She emphasized that what most residents have received so far are ballot applications, not actual ballots, as was done for the June primary. The deadline for returning the ballot application is Oct. 20.
There will also be 11 drop boxes in the county, which will be open Oct. 26 until Nov. 3. There will also be 40 vote centers across the county open Nov. 3 for in-person voting.
If you’re not yet registered to vote, the deadline to do that is Oct. 13.
Alsobrooks also said the county is working with the Washington Football Team to make FedEx Field a voting center.
In the county, 96% of Prince George’s residents voted by mail in the June primary, Alsobrooks said, adding that the primary saw the highest voter participation rate since the 2008 election.