ANNAPOLIS — Marylanders will be required to follow new mandatory mask requirements under a public health order announced by Gov. Larry Hogan.
Key metrics in the state, including the positivity rate and hospitalizations, while lower than the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic in March and April, are showing some signs of increasing. Rising cases in other states, including 21 on a new federal “red zone” list, are in part driving the governor’s renewed call for vigilance.
“We are not immune,” said Hogan. “The virus does not recognize state borders. However, we do find ourselves at a fork in the road, a critical turning point where we could continue making progress and continue heading in the right direction or we could ignore the warnings and spike back up, like much of the rest of the country.”
The governor issued the new mask directives on the same day that he issued a travel advisory for states with positivity rates over 10 percent, a pause in his reopening plan and the retirement of Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips, whom Hogan called his “field general” during the pandemic.
The new mask orders, which take effect Friday, will require the use of masks in the public spaces of all businesses across the state. Face coverings will also be required in outdoor public areas where social distancing is not possible.
The order adds another layer to the growing sets of rules across the state that include those imposed by local government.
On Wednesday, the state had 761 additional cases, according to the Maryland Department of Health. It is the 16th consecutive day of 500 or more new daily cases and the ninth consecutive with 600 or more.
Hospitalizations also rose to 571, driven by a spike in acute cases. The 426 acute cases is the most in 39 days.
Deaths also increased by 20 to 3,347. Maryland is on pace to exceed the 3,434 deaths projected by Oct. 1 by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. The forecast was issued June 24 and included lower assumptions based on 95% of the population adhering to mask use and social distancing.
Hogan also announced a pause in his reopening plan. The governor said he would not move the state into phase three of his plan until key metrics decline.
The announcement, however, changes little as the governor has not eased any additional restrictions since June 19.
The governor also released some data gathered by contact tracing in recent weeks that he said shed new light on risky activities and commonalities in those who tested positive for the virus.
In the last week, Baltimore city and Anne Arundel County have reimposed restrictions on bars and restaurants even as federal officials call on states to clamp down on those activities. Baltimore completely closed bars and restaurants to indoor dining, while Anne Arundel last week ordered those same businesses to end indoor service no later than 10 p.m. each evening.
“Instead of shutting down a county or even just one type of business in a certain area, we can often take a targeted action to slow the spread,” Hogan said. “It’s the difference between using a scalpel instead of a sledgehammer.”
Hogan said contact data shows bars and restaurants are currently less of a risk, but he added that local governments need to do more to crack down on those not following the law.
Of those testing positive recently — Hogan did not define the period examined — 44% reported attending a family gathering. Another 23% reported attending a house party, while 21% reported attending an “outdoor activity.”
“For most of us, I think there is a false sense of security when you’re spending time with family or friends especially if you’re at home or at a backyard barbecue. I think I’m guilty of this myself. I think it’s very easy to become comfortable thinking that just because you haven’t gone out to what you thought of as a high-risk activity that we’re perfectly safe.”
Tracing also found that of those testing positive, 54% worked outside their homes, 39% had been shopping, 23% had dined outdoors and another 23% said they had dined indoors.
The state’s contact tracing also revealed that 23% of those who tested positive worked in health care, while another 23% were office workers with no direct contact with the public. Workers who have direct contact with the public, including retail employees, made up 13% of those who tested positive; restaurant workers comprisedd 12%.
“We cannot say with specificity exactly how they got the virus or where they got the virus but these are commonalities and are significant and important tools for our science and data-driven response effort,” Hogan said.
Because of the data, Hogan said, businesses should continue to encourage employees to work from home as much as possible.
“I just want to be really clear: Contact tracing is showing that teleworking is helping keep Maryland open and your coworkers and employees safe,” he said.
The governor Wednesday also issued an advisory for travelers to other states where the positivity rate is higher than 10%, including Georgia, Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Nebraska, South Carolina, and Texas.
Under the advisory, Hogan asked that residents reconsider unnecessary travel. When travel cannot be avoided, residents are asked to be tested immediately upon return and to self-quarantine until results are returned.
The advisory is not a mandate and is different from mandatory quarantine orders in Washington, D.C., and states such as New York and New Jersey.
Hogan said he hoped the additional efforts would prevent another surge in cases in Maryland so that the state “won’t be in bad shape in the coming months or in the fall.”
Hogan said experts “seem to think these steps will help, but it is by no means a guarantee. We are very concerned. We can’t stop people from crossing the borders, and things are pretty much out of control in some of these states. There’s no guarantee that we can stop it, but these are steps that can help. They’re pretty simple steps.”