Anne Arundel County to lift some COVID-19 business restrictions

Citing a decline in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said that restrictions on business capacity put in place in November and December would be lifted later this week.

While saying that an executive order with all the details would come out Wednesday, Pittman said that most businesses that are currently closed would move to 25% capacity, and those at 25% capacity would move to 50%. That includes restaurants, he said; the changes will go into effect Friday at 5 p.m.

“We can now lift the restrictions that were put in place to deal with the fall surge,” Pittman said during an online media briefing Tuesday.

The move comes as the seven-day average of COVID-19 cases per 100,000 residents is down to 38.3, from over 60 about two weeks ago, and hospitalizations are down to 138.

Though Pittman said he was “thrilled” to make the move, he added, “There is a risk in doing this,” pointing out that it’s based on people remaining vigilant about face masks, social distancing and other safety measures. “Of course, if our numbers go up, we’ll have to go back.”

“The holiday surge is over,” Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said. “This is what the effect of restrictions looks like. It takes a little while to come down, but it has.”

He also warned: “Our deaths are still going to be high for at least a few weeks. They lag.”

Kalyanaraman added that avoiding gatherings and wearing masks are still critical steps, even if you’ve been vaccinated. About 10% of Marylanders have had COVID-19, he said, and only 5% to 6% have been vaccinated, so there are still a lot of opportunities to get sick.

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A public emphasis

Both officials agreed that lack of supply has been causing a bottleneck in vaccine distribution in Anne Arundel County, and that Gov. Larry Hogan’s desire to shift emphasis toward private vaccine providers wouldn’t help.

“I hear from a lot of residents the frustration,” Pittman said, that while the county is moving into Phase 1c, theoretically opening up vaccination to many thousands of people, the county only had about 5,000 doses to give out this week.

“It’s been a very confusing, difficult time for folks,” he added.

Pittman also pointed out that the county, hospitals and pharmacies all use different sign-up systems: “We wish that were not the case.”

He said he was meeting with Hogan on Wednesday to talk about the issue, saying that county health departments were getting vaccines to people at a higher rate than hospitals or private businesses such as pharmacies.

State data show that pharmacies have administered 55.6% of their doses, Pittman said; hospitals, 71.7%, and health departments about 79%, with Anne Arundel’s department leading that at 84.1%.

“Privatization is an excellent move once supplies grow,” Pittman said, but health departments are more efficient, and they work “with an equity lens.”

Pittman said he would call on Hogan to ease the process of distribution by centralizing the registration process. “It’s been very difficult for residents to have to preregister at multiple sites,” he said, adding that one constituent told him on Monday that they had spent seven hours on the Giant website trying to register.

Pittman also announced that the state would be sending the county $3 million in aid money for restaurants and $5 million for hotels, to be administered by the county.

Kalyanaraman said, “We’ve certainly heard that Black and Hispanic” people have been hesitant to get vaccinated, a problem that’s “rooted in the history of medicine and public health.”

He said, however, that that’s exactly why more Black and Hispanic people were represented in vaccine trials. He reemphasized the importance of reaching out to underserved groups about vaccine hesitancy, and that toward that end, community pop-ups similar to those regarding testing will be starting soon.

Hogan comments

Last week, Hogan told a constituent on Facebook that Kalyanaraman “doesn’t really know what he is talking about” when it came to regulations regarding schools, The Capital Gazette reported.

Kalyanaraman has been advocating a slower approach to reopening classrooms than Hogan, who has long pushed to get students back and currently wants that to happen by March 1.

“Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman knows exactly what he’s talking about. He is a highly respected health officer on the front lines of the battle against COVID-19,” Pittman said in a statement. “He’s been saying that we can get our schools open by March 1 and that it’s important to do so.”

He also invited Hogan to meet with Kalyanaraman himself; the doctor said Tuesday that he hadn’t spoken with the governor.

Pitman on Tuesday reiterated his earlier statement, and said he wouldn’t be bringing up the comment when he meets with Hogan on Wednesday.

“We will be talking about how we can get people vaccinated more efficiently,” he said. Kalyanaraman nodded and added, “Far more important.”

Anne Arundel County’s school board voted last week to begin some form of hybrid learning March 1, dependent on health and safety metrics. That’s a month later than the previous plan.

Crossing lines

Though some Anne Arundel County senior citizens are reportedly heading into Calvert County to get vaccinated, Pittman recommended staying in one’s home county.

“We’re not going to tell anybody not to get vaccinated if they can get it,” he said, “ … but people are being encouraged in the state to go to their jurisdiction.”

Pittman added that “Some people are getting caught and some people are not” when heading over county lines. “I would say don’t count on getting vaccinated elsewhere.”

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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