Officials in Prince George’s County, Maryland, say they could begin relaxing more coronavirus-related restrictions in a few weeks, but for now, citing a recent uptick in new daily cases and the rate at which COVID-19 tests are coming back positive, the county is remaining in Phase Two.
“COVID-19 is still very present in our community. And so it is important that we remain vigilant … It is still spreading very slowly through our community and is still causing harm,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday during a news conference.
Alsobrooks said the county has made progress on some key metrics but that “in the past few days, we’ve actually reached a plateau in our data.”
The next update from county leaders will come in the next two to three weeks, she said.
“Hopefully, at that point, we will be able to move into a modified Phase Three,” Alsobrooks said. “That is our hope.”
After hitting a low of 3.5% in late September, the positivity rate in Prince George’s County ticked up to 4.2% last week, according to the county’s health data. That’s still below a key 5% threshold, “but we have seen that number go up and down, so we are really concerned and want to make sure that it stays at a low number,” Alsobrooks said.
Dr. George Askew, the chief administrative officer for the county’s Health, Human Services and Education, called the recent uptick in the positivity rate a “little bump in the road.”
The current rate puts the county in “medium-risk” territory, he said.
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Overall, Prince George’s County, which has been among the hardest hit in Maryland, is still averaging about 700 new coronavirus infections each week, he said.
“We haven’t seen a steep enough and consistent enough drop in new weekly cases to think we are ready to reopen more parts of our county,” Askew said.
The infection rate — the rate at which someone who has COVID-19 infects someone else — is 1.
“This means COVID is still spreading in a slow and controlled fashion here. The goal is to have an infection rate below 0.9,” to slow that spread and that gives the county an opportunity to open up more. He added, “We’re not there yet. These numbers illustrate why we must be more cautious.”
The daily case rate per 100,000 county residents is 11.5, Askew said. The goal is below 10.
Askew added, “Our numbers continue to show that Phase Two is exactly where Prince George’s County needs to be — for now.”
Last month, Maryland 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 allowed to move more slowly.
Prince George’s County, along with neighboring Montgomery County, decided to stay in Phase Two.
Last week, pointing to stabilizing COVID-19 metrics in the state, Hogan announced that nursing homes in the state not currently experiencing outbreaks would be allowed to welcome indoor visitors once again, and child care centers would be allowed to raise their children-to-teacher ratio.
Because Prince George’s County is sticking with Phase Two for now, those updates don’t apply in the county, Alsobrooks said.
“Out of an abundance of caution, we are not allowing indoor visitation to resume in our nursing home to our elders who are very, very vulnerable,” Alsobrooks said.