Gov. Larry Hogan said it is not fair to place the blame on the uptick of some measurements of the spread of the novel coronavirus on bars and restaurants.
Upticks in transmission rates in some jurisdictions around the state as well as concerns about an increase in the numbers of younger adults testing positive compared to older residents has led at least two jurisdictions to reimpose restrictions on bars and restaurants.
Hogan, speaking on the C4 and Bryan Nehman show, said that while those measurements are concerning, he’s not alarmed and cannot directly point the finger of blame at any one industry.
“I don’t think they should be scapegoated,” said Hogan when asked if bars and restaurants are to blame. “There are a few people who are not following the rules so we got to make sure they do because we don’t want to hurt the other 95% of the small businesses that are doing a great job and trying to comply.”
Hogan said he planned to talk about the issue more at a news conference scheduled for Wednesday.
Even as the governor expresses confidence in the state’s numbers, the state’s efforts to reopen have stalled.
Hogan, speaking on CNN’s “The Situation Room” with Wolf Blitzer, said the state is not ready to move forward with his reopening plan.
“We’re in a holding pattern,” said Hogan. “We have been for the past 30 days. We’re continuing to pause. We’re not ready to reopen anything further.”
The reopening of bars and restaurants to indoor dining as well as the reopening of casinos, malls and indoor entertainment facilities in mid-June was the last reopening announcement made by the governor, who then discontinued press briefings for a month.
Hogan in recent weeks has pressured local leaders to ramp up enforcement of state orders governing capacity of bars and restaurants as well as social distancing requirements. Patrons in bars, for example, must be seated and cannot congregate around the bar area. The governor blamed problems on a few bad actors who are willfully ignoring those orders.
The pressure followed a number of reported incidents around the state where bars and restaurants in Ocean City, Baltimore and Anne Arundel County — to name a few — closed after employees tested positive for the virus.
“We’ve just started to get some real data starting to come in from all the contact tracing we’ve been doing,” said Hogan. “You can’t pinpoint, you don’t know exactly where somebody got it from, because we say where have you been, what have you done? What kinds of activities? What types of places? So we want to try to figure out who else might be infected So it’s not a guarantee of where they got it from.”
Maryland has seen an uptick in newly confirmed cases over the last two weeks after more than a month of declining new positive cases and hospitalizations.
Hogan Tuesday attributed the increases in new cases and the uptick in hospitalizations to an increase in testing.
“The increased cases, we’re down about 90% from our peak in April, the slight increase is mainly from going from less than 10,000 tests a day to more than 30,000 tests a day,”said Hogan speaking on CNN Monday. You obviously get more cases as you identify them.”
Last week New York added Maryland to a list of 31 states whose residents must quarantine for 14 days before entering that state. Hogan called the decision a mistake but said he believed it was driven by the same increase in testing.
Maryland’s seven-day rolling positivity rates remains below the CDC standard of 5%, according to the Department of Health, which calculates that rate by dividing the number of positive tests by the testing volume over a rolling seven day period.
Others see it differently.
The Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center report that rate as 5.8%. The organization calculates the rate by dividing the number of positives by the total number of positive and negative test results.
Local health officials are also sounding the alarm over increases in transmission rates — the number of people to whom an infected person transmits the disease. A rate of below one, which the state saw earlier this year, is considered low enough to stop the effective spread of the virus.
“The trend is clearly moving upwards,” Anne Arundel County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said last week.
In March, the rate of transmission in Anne Arundel County was about 1.8. That number had decreased in the weeks following executive orders issued by Gov. Larry Hogan that closed the vast majority of businesses across the state. Kalyanaraman said the rate, once below 1 transmission per infection, is now approaching 1.2.
“That’s concerning to us because it means that the virus is spreading faster and faster,” said Kalyanaraman.
The statewide transmission rate is 1.18 according to the tracking website covidactnow.org. Baltimore is 1.16 and Worcester County is 1.29.
On Sunday, Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force, called on leaders in Kentucky to close down bars and restaurants. She has also cited concerns about Baltimore saying it was one of a dozen cities where aggressive action is needed.
In Maryland, local officials are vowing ramped up enforcement, including fines.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman ordered restaurants and bars that serve food to end indoor service at 10 p.m. nightly. The first-term Democrat also imposed restrictions on indoor and outdoor gatherings. The county also has a mandatory mask order in place for people who are outside but cannot practice appropriate social distancing.
Baltimore City Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young last week reinstated prohibitions on indoor food service at bars and restaurants and issued orders that anyone age 2 and older wear masks when outside.
Hogan said that there is no cause for alarm.
“Increased number of cases in Baltimore City but they have a slightly increased positivity rate though it is declining everywhere else in the state,” said Hogan. “It’s not a panic situation. There’s no alarm.”