County Executive Jan Gardner joined colleagues from across the state Wednesday in urging Marylanders to remain vigilant during the second surge of the coronavirus pandemic that has hospitals filling up.
Gardner (D) noted increasing case rates, positivity rates and hospitalizations, which increased by 25 percent in 24 hours. She said she has been talking with Washington County officials about their hospital capacity, which has been stretched thinner than in the first wave of the pandemic.
One difference between the first and second waves is there are fewer people in the intensive care unit at Frederick Health Hospital, Gardner said. But counties to the west are seeing more cases than this spring, she said.
“That is concerning to me because of how it could impact hospitalizations in Frederick County ... as others have said, we know the virus has no boundaries, so what happens in our rural jurisdictions affects what happens in our suburban and urban jurisdictions,” Gardner said.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) leads a county perhaps most similar to Frederick. Its population is within 5,000-10,000 residents, has thousands of acres of agricultural land and is largely rural.
Like Gardner, Glassman urged Marylanders and political leaders to remember about the virus’s spread in more rural counties.
“Many of them were blessed in the summer, also with lower numbers, but some of them now are dealing with surges that are, in fact, higher than some of the metropolitan counties,” Glassman said. “Remember, it’s a big state, and the smaller counties have a role in protecting their businesses and their citizens.”
The “light at the end of the tunnel” — a phrase used by nearly every political leader during Wednesday’s press briefing — are the coronavirus vaccines.
But elected and health leaders said Marylanders still need to practice social distancing, wear face coverings and frequently wash their hands in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
Dr. Peter Hill, senior vice president of Medical Affairs at Johns Hopkins Medical System, said vaccines are a good sign, but Marylanders must follow public health guidelines.
“What’s important is we ensure the tunnel doesn’t collapse before we get there,” Hill said, in a nod to the metaphor of the day. “I think it’s important to understand that our health systems ... have an increasing number of COVID patients that displaces non-COVID care. We have an equal responsibility to care for all of our Marylanders, regardless of what their underlying disease and condition might be.”
On top of those health practices, some jurisdictions in the state have started to adopt greater restrictions on bars, restaurants and retail establishments, among others.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) announced Wednesday he would close all indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants in Baltimore and retail businesses must drop to 25 percent capacity beginning Friday at 5 p.m.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) issued an executive order Wednesday that, if council approves, will prohibit indoor dining and retail business capacity to one person per 200 square feet of space, up to 150 people. Those restrictions would start Dec. 15
Gardner has not limited retail or indoor restaurant capacity beyond Gov. Larry Hogan’s (R) executive order capping those at 50 percent. She is holding a press briefing related to the coronavirus at 2 p.m. Thursday.
She said Wednesday she has identified county money for next year to house the homeless, continue rental assistance payments and provide further assistance once the CARES Act funding runs out.
There are other needs in the community, however, and she hinted a second coronavirus relief bill would greatly help her and other county leaders in the state.
“Certainly, our business community continues to ask for money,” Gardner said, noting a recent round of restaurant grants that was just completed. “We will continue to support the economic health of our community, but without federal assistance, I think that becomes a challenge for many of us to do.”