Alarmed by a recent increase in Howard County’s COVID-19 infection rate, County Executive Calvin Ball (D) placed limits on social gatherings on Monday.
Under an executive order that takes effect Tuesday at 5 p.m., indoor gatherings of more than 10 people are prohibited. Outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people will also be banned.
The county has canceled all sports tournaments that involve out-of-state travel, and Howard is creating a “Stay COVID Safe” campaign to reinforce public health messages about masks, hand washing and social distancing.
Howard’s positivity rate now stands at 5% and its case rate is approaching 20 infections for every 100,000 people, which Ball said indicates “uncontrolled community spread.”
“Our contact tracing efforts show that a majority of transmission of the COVID-19 virus has been from close relatives, family and friends,” he said. “It is clear that with the onset of cooler weather, larger gatherings of families and friends — especially indoors — have fueled the current spike.”
The executive opted not to place new restrictions on business activity, a step that neighboring jurisdictions have already taken or are contemplating.
Ball’s order applies to family gatherings, parties and cookouts but not business activity, fraternal organizations, religious events or wedding receptions held at a wedding venue.
The head of Howard County General Hospital told reporters the facility is experiencing a “rapid” increase in its COVID-19 patient-load — the steepest since the first wave of cases earlier this year.
Interim President Dr. Shafeeq Ahmed said Howard General is continuing to schedule both elective and emergency surgeries. “I want to urge that we can manage all of these conditions safely and I encourage people not to delay their care that is necessary.”
Ball said he understands “COVID fatigue,” which he said is leading people to take fewer precautions than they did earlier in the pandemic.
“I have missed not being able to hug my parents for eight months,” he said. “We all feel that.”
On Friday, Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) issued an executive order banning social gatherings to no more than 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
He ordered bars and restaurants to close at midnight, and he imposed a ban on organized youth recreational indoor and outdoor sports.
“Now is the time to take action. We need all our residents to take this dangerous spike seriously so that we can protect the health of everyone in our community and save lives,” he said.
“We all want to get back to normal, we want to go about our lives without restrictions and we want our kids back in school, but none of that can happen unless we all do our part.”
Statewide, there were 1,726 new COVID-19 diagnoses reported Monday morning, bringing total number of cases in Maryland to 167,656 since March. The state reported seven deaths on Monday, brining the yearly total to 4,160.