Two Counties Announce More Reopening, Expert Warns Against Lifting Limits

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Two of Maryland’s largest counties announced on Thursday they will follow the state in returning to commerce and allowing more social interaction in the coming days.

But their decisions came as a leading health care advisor to Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) broke with the administration publicly, saying that the state is moving too quickly.

Hogan declared on Wednesday that Maryland’s COVID-19 health-use metrics have shown consistent improvement over the last eight weeks. The trends, he said, allow for indoor dining and outdoor amusement and rides to resume at 5 p.m. on Friday, and for gyms, indoor dance and martial arts, malls and casinos to reopen a week later, on June 19.

But a leading expert with whom Hogan has consulted waved the caution flag on social media.

“I don’t agree with a number of the decisions” Hogan made, said Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby, a professor at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, on Twitter.

The director of Hopkins’ Center for Health Security, Inglesby gave the governor and the state’s top health officials high marks for their general public safety messaging, and he agreed that Maryland’s numbers “have been moving in right direction.”

But Hogan should have held back on certain re-openings, he said.

“I don’t agree we should end limits on indoor large gatherings,” Inglesby wrote. “We shouldn’t restart conventions. There’ve been outbreaks of COVID in indoor restaurants and bars, so they will also be higher risk. Casinos will also pose new risks unless major mitigation efforts made.”

Dr. Thomas V. Inglesby. Johns Hopkins photo

“Group gatherings are situations where this virus has great capacity to spread widely,” he added.

An infectious disease specialist whose advice is widely sought, Inglesby said not enough time has elapsed since Maryland’s May 29 return to office work, manufacturing, construction, car dealerships, insurance offices, outdoor restaurants and personal services.

“We haven’t had time to see impact,” he wrote. “We had 519 new cases [Wednesday] in Maryland. We need to drive that number down. More disease control would bring more public confidence, would be better for the state economy. We can’t let hundreds of cases a day become our new normal.”

He added that large social justice protests bring the potential for a wave of new infections, a point underscored by Hogan, who said the state would work to provide a test to every person who attended a demonstration.

“Contact tracing will be very hard to do effectively and sustain with many hundreds of new cases a day,” the doctor warned.

Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said the administration  “very much appreciates Dr. Inglesby’s help and guidance.”

“We continue to follow the safe, effective, and gradual roadmap that he and a number of other public health experts helped us develop, with public health protocols in place at every step,” Ricci said in a statement.

“It is a cautious, data-driven approach, and as Dr. Inglesby notes, our key statewide health metrics continue to trend in a positive direction.”

Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) thanked Inglesby for his independent assessment of the state’s readiness to resume normal commerce and social interaction.

“In Montgomery County we flattened the number, but still have too many cases daily showing there’s still a significant reservoir of undetected cases out there,” Elrich posted on Twitter. “As painful as closing is, another spike in cases, and deaths, will be more painful.”

Elrich told county residents on Thursday that he is “hopeful” that Montgomery can move to Phase 2 “in about one week.”

“But it will only be based on the data and in consultation with our public health officer,” he wrote. “I have an obligation to be cautious and consider the public health risks for our residents.”

Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) announced Thursday that the county will move to “modified” Phase 2 re-openings on June 15.

Under her plan:

  • Retail stores can open at 50% capacity
  • Barbershops and hair salons will be allowed to open at 50% capacity and by appointment only
  • Nail salons, massage studios and spas can reopen by appointment only
  • Restaurants may open with outside seating; indoor dining will be allowed at 50% percent capacity
  • Houses of worship can open for gatherings not to exceed 25% capacity
  • Childcare facilities will be able to open for essential employees and for employees who are returning to work in Phase 2
  • Outdoor community pools, both public and private, may open at 25% percent capacity
  • Car washes may open with automated systems, but drivers and passengers must stay inside their vehicle
  • Outdoor youth sports may resume in small groups (no more than nine children and one coach)
  • Parks are open for personal fitness and fitness classes

Gyms, fitness centers, and other indoor physical activities will remain closed in Prince George’s. Amusement parks, casinos and enclosed shopping malls must remain closed as well.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman Jr. (D) announced a return to indoor dining at 50% capacity at 5 p.m. on Friday.

Outdoor amusements and rides, including miniature golf and go-kart tracks, may also resume under state guidance.

He said Anne Arundel County intends to follow state re-openings for indoor fitness facilities, casinos, arcades and malls on June 19.

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Bruce DePuyt
Bruce DePuyt spent nearly three decades on local television, including 14 years as executive producer and host of News Talk on NewsChannel 8 in the Washington, D.C., area. He has served as reporter, anchor and producer/host of 21 This Week in Montgomery County and as reporter/anchor at NBC affiliate WVIR-TV in Charlottesville, VA. He's a regular contributor to WTOP (103.5 FM) and frequently moderates community and political events.