ANNAPOLIS — On a day Maryland reported no new coronavirus deaths, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the state would allow more visits to nursing homes and possibly increase the number of available day care slots for children.
Hogan, flanked by state Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon and Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy health secretary, said the actions reflect the decline or stabilization of metrics used to track the spread of the virus in the state.
Hogan said the new guidelines “allow for more flexibility for compassionate care visits to support residents who need emotional and spiritual support.”
Limited outdoor visitation had been allowed starting in June.
The eased restrictions, effective immediately, will allow for the visits at any nursing home that is not experiencing an outbreak, or has not reported new cases in the last 14 days and is in a local jurisdiction where the positivity rate is above 10%.
All 227 nursing home facilities in Maryland are expected to have initial allocations of rapid testing supplies by next week. Hogan said the state will also provide an additional $6 million for testing in nursing homes.
Additionally, because the spread of the virus is well-controlled, child care facilities will be allowed to return to full capacity.
Salmon said the state has reported “very few” COVID-19 cases in children since reopening day care in limited capacities.
“When the capacity limit for child care programs was increased from June from 10 to 15 individuals per room, the state did not see a spike in cases within childcare programs,” said Salmon.
About 82% of providers have opened under the state limits, but Salmon said “demand for available child care remains very high.”
Under the eased rules, child care providers can now return to the full number of children for whom they are licensed, Salmon said.
“Hopefully, this action will assist in limiting the many unregulated and illegal child care providers and operators that have sprung up in recent months as pandemic pods, where there are no criminal background checks, no oversight, and parents cannot be sure their children are in a safe environment,” said Salmon.
Reopened programs will receive a one-time grant of $800 for family care providers. Center-based programs can receive a $1,600 one-time grant. Additionally, the Maryland State Department of Education is also providing $1,000 grants to eligible, new family home care providers “in an effort to bolster new small businesses,” Salmon said.
Maryland on Thursday reported no new COVID-19 deaths. It’s the first time since March 28 —188 days ago — that such a figure has been reported, though there is a lag in death reports and some counties, including Montgomery, did record deaths at the same time the state reported none.
Nearly a month ago, Hogan eased restrictions on entertainment venues as he moved the state into phase three of his reopening plan. He also announced that individual jurisdictions could increase their indoor seating capacity. Not every jurisdiction has done so.
Since those moves and the Labor Day holiday, the state has seen a drop or stabilizing of some key metrics. The total number of hospitalizations has remained around 300, and ICU cases, the most severe cases, have dropped below 80 per day.
The state’s rolling seven-day average remains below 3%.
But in recent days the state has seen some upticks in both the positivity rate and new cases as it heads into the fall and the traditional start of the flu season.
“The confluence of COVID and the flu has required a change in our strategies for the fall,” said Hogan.
One of those changes includes transitioning a lab at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, from COVID-19-only tests to one that for that virus and both strains of the flu.
Maryland reported 785 positive tests Thursday — the most since 809 new cases were reported on Sept. 12.
The one-day positivity rate of 4.03 was the highest since Sept. 6, and the rolling seven-day average as of Thursday edged up to 2.88%, the highest since Sept. 19.
Both rates are below the 5% benchmark set by the CDC and World Health Organization. Johns Hopkins and other sites, using a different way of calculating positivity rates, show the state at or above 5%.
Hogan said the state is planning and working to mitigate potential fall surges. Hogan urged Marylanders to get a flu shot.
“I wouldn’t say we’re not concerned about potential problems in the fall, but right now our health metrics could not possibly be any better,” said Hogan.