How fast Maryland can start reopening all depends on the numbers.
Gov. Larry Hogan is expected to discuss some of the details of a plan that could get shops and businesses reopened at some point. And some of the metrics that Hogan and his advisers are likely to use to make those decisions are becoming clearer.
Hogan, speaking on Friday, said the total number of cases isn’t a key factor in the decision to gradually lift restrictions that have crippled businesses, kept residents at home and forced nearly 300,000 people so far onto the state’s unemployment rolls.
“There’s a lot of different sets of numbers that we look at every day,” Hogan said on Friday after President Donald Trump and his public health team recommended optional guidelines that governors could use to determine if their states are ready to begin loosening restrictions. “The president’s plan was a pretty good outline. It’s not exactly like our plan. They left it up to the states to tailor theirs.”
The state Health Department Monday, in its latest release of numbers, reported 13,684 confirmed cases — an increase of 854 cases over the previous report on Sunday. The state also reported an increase of 30 deaths, bringing the total to 516, as well as 3,014 hospitalizations representing a 128 patient increase over figures reported Sunday.
The increase in cases puts an end to two consecutive days of lowering confirmed test numbers.
A day later, the number of confirmed cases decreased once again but deaths announced — 68 — was the most in a 24-hour period in the state.
Hogan has said that the raw number of cases updated each day is not thought of as the best metric because the number is expected to climb as testing becomes more widely available to the public.
The plan calls for states with declining numbers for 14 days to enter phase one with a gradual lifting of some restrictions. As those jurisdictions can show that there has been no rebound of cases and also an additional 14-day decline, they can enter the next phase, repeating the process through to the third phase.
The proposal, which is not a mandate on states, does not get the country back to life as it was before the pandemic began. Experts say a vaccine may be needed for that to happen.
Hogan has yet to say what his plan is, promising specifics later this week.
He has been under pressure to reboot the state’s economy while simultaneously battling the pandemic in Maryland, including a protest on Saturday that drew scores to Annapolis, clogging the roads near the State House for several hours.
House Republicans also sent a letter to the governor calling for an easing of restrictions, starting with rural areas of the state. They contend that cases have been lower in those areas.
The governor, speaking on Friday, did give some insight into some of the other data points he and his team are following, some of which are not publicly released by the state Health Department on its COVID-19 tracking site.
“We’re really keeping an eye on how many people are going in the hospital, how many people are moving from the hospital to an acute, you know, or intensive care bed, and how many people , you know, we’re losing to the disease,” said Hogan. “Those things, all three of those categories have to be in a downward direction for 14 days before we can even consider the reopening of anything. That’s according to the federal guidelines for any state in America.”
Prior to Tuesday morning, Maryland had not released the number of people hospitalized or published statistics on acute and intensive care patients. Statistics related to patients released from isolation do not mean only patients released from hospital settings.
Still not released by the administration is a complete accounting of nursing homes affected by the disease as well as the numbers of staff and residents at those facilities who have been treated, recovered or died.
A spokeswoman for Hogan said information on nursing homes would have to be requested from health departments in each county. A spokesman for the state Department of Health denied a request, saying privacy laws prohibited the release of names of facilities affected and raw case numbers even if they did not identify individual patients.
Hogan said the state also needs to ensure there is the hospital capacity for any resurgence of the illness as well as beef up the supplies of tests, protective equipment and contact tracing of new patients.
“It’s really the (testing) numbers and those other four things, and then we can start ratcheting things up in a safe, smart, gradual way,” Hogan said.