The request to reimpose restrictions comes as the rolling seven-day average of new coronavirus infections Tuesday across Virginia, Maryland and D.C. stood at 2,833 — a seventh consecutive day with a record high. That’s more than double the region’s average of 1,313 new daily infections on Oct. 1.
Maryland has allowed local governments to reopen more slowly than the state’s timeline and to retain more restrictive policies, even as Hogan lifts them statewide. But local officials with the state’s six largest jurisdictions have for months criticized the approach, arguing that a “patchwork” reopening hampers their ability to curb the virus effectively and that Hogan has not included local governments in his pandemic decision-making.
Top officials from Baltimore, Frederick, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and the city of Baltimore reiterated their message in a Saturday letter to Hogan, noting it had been 169 days since he had participated in a statewide call with county leaders.
“All of us have thanked you repeatedly for taking these bold steps to save lives in our counties,” they wrote. “But it seems as if the state’s resolve has weakened since we collectively achieved that positive progress in our battle against this virus.”
The letter notes that Maryland’s daily case rate per 100,000 residents recently hit a record high of 14.98, which far exceeds the rate when Hogan imposed a stay-at-home order. In addition, the “stop signs” included in the state’s recovery outline — a sustained increase in hospitalization or community transmission, for example — are “staring us in the face,” the officials said. Covid-related hospitalizations have ticked upward since mid-October.
“Our residents do not live their lives confined within the borders of our counties,” the letter said. “So our efforts to contain this deadly virus should not either.”
Coronavirus infections in Maryland have spiked in the past week, with seven consecutive days of at least 1,000 new cases. The coronavirus test positivity rate climbed past 5 percent Monday for the first time since June.
Montgomery lawmakers on Tuesday approved County Executive Marc Elrich’s executive order to limit gatherings to 25 people or fewer and reduce capacity for restaurants and shops from 50 percent to 25 percent. The new rules went into effect at 5 p.m. Tuesday.
Elrich (D) said Tuesday morning that he was disappointed Hogan did not brief county officials on what he planned to announce during an afternoon news conference.
“He’s basically cut all of the county executives out,” Elrich said. “I know people think, ‘How can Hogan do this?’ Well, he does.”
Elrich has consistently opted to reopen Montgomery at a slower pace than the state. Given the recent surge in cases statewide, Elrich said he thinks Hogan should have moved more quickly to reimpose certain restrictions on social and commercial activity.
He added that he wants Hogan to introduce lower caps to indoor dining and social gatherings, and to bar the provision of alcohol at restaurants after 10 p.m. “I just hope he makes a bold step like what he did in the beginning,” he said.
Maryland and Virginia each set a record Tuesday for their average number of recent daily cases, a figure that stood at 1,278 in Maryland and 1,462 in Virginia. While Virginia’s average is higher, its recent rate of infection is 122 new cases per 100,000 residents, below that of less populous Maryland, with 149 new cases per 100,000 residents.
The seven-day average in D.C. is 93, which is about half the peak level recorded earlier in the pandemic. The city is averaging 95 new cases per 100,000 residents in recent days, below that of each neighboring state.
The rate of new infections in the Washington region continues to hover at about half the U.S. average, with caseloads locally marching upward with those in several states.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young (D) announced Friday the city would be reimposing restrictions on social activity, including limiting the capacity of indoor and outdoor facilities to 25 percent, halting indoor dining at 10 p.m. and prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) announced Tuesday a major expansion of testing for the coronavirus but resisted calls to impose new restrictions on residents and businesses.
About 6.2 percent of coronavirus tests in the state are positive, an increase over recent weeks, but far from the 20 percent positivity rate in the spring, Northam said.
“This is concerning because it’s getting colder, the holidays are approaching, and the temptation to meet with friends and family is high,” he said at a news conference.
Southwest Virginia, which seemed out of reach of the virus while Northern Virginia was suffering its worst effects in spring and early summer, has a positivity rate of about 9 percent.
State officials signed contracts with three new laboratories to provide community testing in areas with severe outbreaks and in congregate settings such as nursing homes. In addition, the state is distributing 200,000 new antigen “quick response” tests bought in a regional pact, with other rapid tests provided by the federal government.
Officials said this will allow the state to test 7,000 more people each day, in addition to the 20,000 residents now tested daily. The tests will go to sites in Blacksburg, Charlottesville and Norfolk.
Northam urged residents to continue limiting their interactions with others, to wear masks and to wash hands.
“This virus is alive and well, it’s very contagious,” he said. “We can’t get complacent, and this is not the time to give up.”
The governor said it’s also not the time to toughen enforcement or impose new restrictions. Recent changes in state law will allow civil — not just criminal — penalties for those who don’t comply with the statewide mask order, but Northam said he prefers to emphasize “mitigations” and changing behavior through a marketing campaign.
“It’s not about carrying a stick around, but about carrots,” said Northam, a pediatric neurologist.
Arlington County health director Reuben Varghese told County Board members Tuesday that the jurisdiction reached its second-highest level of coronavirus cases this week, trailing only a week in May.
“In October, we’ve seen a steady increase and it’s continued,” he said, calling the 450 cases a “banner week.” He added: “Every age group has seen a rise. Every single race and ethnic group has seen a rise … Every Zip code has seen a rise.”
Maryland on Tuesday launched a voluntary contact-tracing application, called MD COVID Alert. Residents who set the region on their iPhone or Android smartphone as Maryland will receive a push notification inviting them to receive exposure notification alerts, officials said. The system, which gives users a random ID to track possible exposure, does not collect or share personal information, said Katherine Feldman, the state’s contact-tracing unit director.
“The system is completely anonymous,” she said.
The greater Washington region recorded 2,859 additional cases and 27 deaths Tuesday. Virginia added 1,435 cases and 13 deaths; Maryland added 1,338 cases and 12 deaths; and D.C. added 86 cases and two deaths.
Ovetta Wiggins contributed to this report.