ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD — Anne Arundel County will not yet enter stage 3 of its coronavirus recovery effort, County Executive Steuart Pittman said Thursday afternoon. Pittman’s announcement came two days after Gov. Larry Hogan said that all Maryland jurisdictions can enter the third and final phase of his Roadmap to Recovery plan this Friday at 5 p.m.
Although Hogan will not force counties to relax their coronavirus regulations, the offer is theirs for the taking. All businesses have the governor’s permission to reopen, but only when their county approves.
“Unfortunately, cases in our county are increasing right now,” Pittman said in a press release. “Recent experience shows clearly that if we increase activity, our rate of spread will accelerate more. That is the outcome that we must avoid.”
Pittman did not offer an estimate for when the county would progress into Stage 3. The county has been in Stage 2 since June 5.
He says he is monitoring Anne Arundel’s coronavirus metrics with health officials to make data-driven decisions. Pittman noted that his top priority is to quell the outbreak and return students to school as quickly and safely as possible.
The county executive asked residents to aid the recovery efforts by refraining from large gatherings this Labor Day weekend, as congregations could quickly spread the virus. Pittman says residents should continue to wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently.
Schools And Coronavirus Numbers
The most recent data clock Anne Arundel County’s positivity rate at 3.64 percent, which is .25 percent higher than the statewide clip. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says municipalities should aim to keep their positivity rate below 5 percent. When counties hit this mark, Maryland health leaders say it is likely safe to return to schools for hybrid instruction.
Though Anne Arundel meets the positivity rate recommendation, school officials still plan to start the fall semester with online classes. Anne Arundel County Public Schools previously committed to distance learning for the first two marking periods.
The state has challenged AACPS’s decision over the last two weeks. Hogan recently urged schools to start considering a hybrid model. AACPS responded by reaffirming its immediate commitment to remote learning while also speeding up its plans for eventual hybrid classes. As of now, school is online until at least the start of the third marking period, which begins on Feb. 2, 2021.
Anne Arundel County has been under the 5 percent benchmark since June 22. The local positivity rate topped out at 28.24 percent on April 16.
While the jurisdiction meets the percent positive guideline, it does not meet the state’s new infections-per-capita marker. State health officials say municipalities should aim for less than five new coronavirus cases-per-day per 100,000 people. When an area hits this goal, the state says it is probably safe to reopen the district’s schools for expanded in-person learning.
Over the past week, Anne Arundel has averaged 9.96 new cases-per-day per 100,000 residents. That’s up by 1.85 since last Friday.
The county must average less than 28.96 new coronavirus infections-per-day over a rolling week to meet the state’s per-capita suggestion. Anne Arundel County has averaged 57.74 new cases-per-day during the last seven days, which is an increase of 10.74 from the week prior.
“Our goal is to get our case rate down so that we can get schools open,” County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said in the release. “When we have reopened in the past, we have seen cases go up. We all want to get to Stage Three and return to a sense of normalcy, but it just isn’t safe to do that yet.”
Anne Arundel County has the fifth most coronavirus infections in the state, with 8,536. The virus has killed 227 county residents.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have slowed as of late. The virus had 22 Anne Arundel County residents in the hospital on Aug. 26. That was the lowest since April 3 when 21 locals were hospitalized. Tuesday saw 29 hospitalizations, according to the most recent report.
Fewer than 50 coronavirus patients have been in the hospital at a time since June 14. The county’s recent high of 49 hospitalizations came on July 24. More than 170 people were hospitalized in Anne Arundel County on the pandemic’s April 21 peak.
“The data shows us that we are simply not ready to move to Stage Three,” Pittman said, encouraging residents to visit the county’s coronavirus information page. “To get there, we must stand together and finish the job we started. Let’s beat this thing.”
When Anne Arundel County permits, movie theaters and live entertainment venues can reopen at 50 percent capacity. These businesses will only be able to host 100 people for indoor events or 250 patrons for outdoor gatherings, however. Until then, they remain closed.
Retail stores and houses of worship will operate at a 75 percent capacity, whenever the county moves into phase 3. They are currently capped at half their usual crowd size.
“I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into stage 3 does not mean that this crisis is behind us,” Hogan said. “We must remain vigilant so we can keep Maryland open for business.”
Marylanders are steadily returning to work as restrictions ease. Since peaking at 10.1 percent in April, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen each month.
Now, 7.6 percent of the labor force is out of a job. In comparison, the unemployment rate was 3.3 percent in February, a month before coronavirus shutdowns began.
While Maryland still has a way to go before it reaches its pre-coronavirus economy, the state is still faring better than most of the country. The national unemployment rate sits at 10.2 percent, which is down from its recent high of 14.7 percent in April.
The overall unemployment stats are updated less frequently at the county level. The latest figures show that 21,277 people, or 6.7 percent of Anne Arundel County workers, were without a job in July. That’s down 3.1 percent from the county’s pandemic-high, which it registered in May.
The number of new unemployment claims are updated each week, offering a more timely overview of county economies. The freshest report comes from the week ending on Aug. 29.
That week, Anne Arundel County tallied 725 first-time unemployment insurance claims. The county’s worst stint came during the week of Aril 4, when it saw 10,573 new claims. In comparison, Anne Arundel counted 146 first-time claims in the week of March 5, which was when Hogan declared a state of emergency in response to the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
Maryland has added 156,000 jobs since recovery efforts began, said Kelly Schulz, the secretary for the state Department of Commerce. She attributes the economic revival to the $175 million in grants and loans that her department sent to thousands of local businesses.
Safety remains a top priority for Schulz, who said her team has met with 13 different industries to develop safe reopening guidelines. That partnership involved leaders from the tourism, manufacturing, retail, dining and attractions sectors, among others.
The group assembled a list of safety recommendations specific to each field. The suggestions include staggering employees’ shifts to minimize potential coronavirus exposure and placing signs and barriers to aid social distancing. These tips are available in Maryland’s Back to Business portal.
“We’ve helped them keep their doors open, pay their bills and keep their employees on their payrolls,” Schulz said of Maryland business owners. “We have stayed strong during this pandemic, and we will remain vigilant. We are, in fact, keeping Maryland open for business.”
Masks are still required in all public places in Maryland where social distancing is not possible. This includes all outdoor and indoor areas like town centers, shops and restaurants.
Hogan reminded residents to continue their coronavirus prevention measures, even around their relatives. People tend to feel safer around their family, but they must still take precautions, Hogan said.
Coronavirus seems to spread quickly at family events. Since the middle of July, 41 percent of coronavirus patients interviewed by contact tracers reported going to family gatherings.
“You think it’s maybe dangerous to go to a restaurant or a bar or some business,” Hogan said. “But in fact, the No. 1 thing reported is family gatherings.”
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This article originally appeared on the Anne Arundel Patch