A continued downward trend in COVID-19 numbers in Prince George’s County, Maryland, has prompted a loosening of the coronavirus safety restrictions.
County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said at a media briefing Thursday that beginning Friday at 5 p.m., the capacity limit for businesses will be raised to 50%, including indoor dining, movie theaters, gyms, houses of worship and other establishments. The limit on indoor private gatherings will be 20 people, while outdoor gatherings will be capped at 50.
“The future of Prince George’s County is beginning to look much brighter,”Alsobrooks said in announcing the changes. “The metrics clearly show that we are in a better place than we were in a month ago.”
Alsobrooks and Dr. George Askew, the county’s deputy chief administrative officer for health, human services and education, had the encouraging numbers:
- The percentage of COVID-19 tests that come back positive is 4.6%, down from 7% a month ago;
- The infection rate – the average number of people each patient goes on to infect – is under 1, at .94, a sign that the virus is contracting, not expanding;
- More than 50% of hospital beds in the county are open, and only 8% of the county’s hospital patients are COVID-19 cases.
Both officials warned that the trend could go south quickly, saying that masks, social distancing and other safety measures were still critical.
Alsobrooks said that the county had the capacity to deliver 15,000 doses of the various COVID-19 vaccines per week, although they don’t have access to that many doses yet. Still, as of this week, about 100,000 Prince George’s residents have had at least one vaccine dose, and almost 50,000 have been fully vaccinated.
Askew said more than 65,000 names from the county health department’s waiting list have been sent to pharmacies in the county who are also administering vaccines, so anyone on the list could be getting a notification of an appointment from anyone. “Take the call; take the email,” Askew said. He added that the county had gone from number 23 to number 3 in dose administration in less than a month.
Askew vouched for the safety and effectiveness of all three of the currently available vaccines, saying they gave “excellent protection” to keep people from getting the virus, “and, most importantly, alive if you do get infected.”
“Take the first vaccine that is made available to you,” he said.
Alsobrooks and Askew also said the Sports and Learning Center vaccination site would be closed from Friday through March 28 for previously scheduled maintenance. No appointments will be made for the center during those dates.
Alsobrooks’ move comes two days after Gov. Larry Hogan lifted capacity restrictions on Maryland establishments including restaurants and retail businesses, although the governor said social distancing had to be maintained and added that counties could keep restrictions in place.
“Our reopening will move at a different pace to the rest of the state,” Alsobrooks said, referring to Gov. Larry Hogan’s reopening orders from earlier this week, but “Our metrics tell us that we can safely do more than we are currently doing.”
The county executive said she had checked with health officials to make sure her partial easing of restrictions was safe, and with the attorney general’s office to make sure she had the authority to make smaller changes to the county’s rules.
“We’re not going as far as the state has gone,” Alsobrooks said. “The governor has different considerations than I do. He has to look at the entire state, and I have the pleasure of only considering Prince George’s County.”
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