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As cases surge, Olszewski calls on governor for statewide restrictions

FILE - In this Sunday, July 12, 2020, vehicles wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site at the Miami Beach Convention Center during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami Beach, Fla. As coronavirus cases surge in hard-hit Florida, so do the turnaround times for test results. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

Vehicles wait in line at a COVID-19 testing site at the Miami Beach Convention Center during the coronavirus pandemic in Miami Beach, Florida in July. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky, File)

A fresh wave of coronavirus infections washing over the state is cause for new statewide restrictions, according to Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr.

Olszewski Monday said his county is seeing dramatic spikes and is on the verge of imposing its own restrictions.

“We believe any action taken is best done statewide and the numbers bear that out,” said Olszewski. “We’re seeing spikes from western Maryland to the Eastern Shore and everywhere in between. We know that a patchwork approach limits the public health impact but more importantly it puts our businesses on an unequal playing field, it confuses our residents and business communities about that is allowed and what is not.”

Late Monday afternoon, Gov. Larry Hogan announced a Tuesday news conference to provide an update on the state response to the pandemic.

On Monday, the state reported an additional 1,375 infections. It was the sixth consecutive day of 1,000 or more daily cases — a first for Maryland. Additionally, the state’s rolling seven-day average of cases jumped to nearly 1,197, the highest of any time since the first cases were reported in Maryland on March 5.

Also at a new high is the state’s average cases per 100,000 population which now stands at 18.55.

Maryland also added 52 new hospitalizations. And while acute and ICU bed usage remains below peak levels seen in the spring, there is a concern that the increases will soon strain the state’s hospital infrastructure.

“The case count is astounding and is already higher than we’ve seen throughout this pandemic,” said Olszewski. “The other thing that we’re monitoring are the hospitalizations, the acuity, the ICU rates, which are starting to tick up. They’ve almost doubled in the last month. if those rates continue, we cannot allow our hospitals to become overrun.”

Tom Inglesby, director of Johns  Hopkins Center for Health Security and a member of Gov. Larry Hogan’s advisory panel on the coronavirus, called for a unified national response by governors across the country in a series of messages on Twitter Sunday.

Inglesby called on governors across the country to limit all indoor gatherings to less than 10 people. He also called for suspension of large outdoor gatherings

“Where virus is surging, and that’s a lot of the US now, bars should be closed, restaurants limited to outdoor seating and take out,” Inglesby wrote. “Provide economic assistance programs to help owners of those businesses. That’s the deal we owe them as they close in order to help all of us.”

Some jurisdictions have already moved to stricter limits. Montgomery County reduced the limit of the size of gatherings from 50 to 25. Capacities for retailers, churches and other facilities was similarly reduced to 25 people or 25%, whichever is lower.

Outgoing Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young imposed similar rules limiting indoor and outdoor gatherings — public or private — to 10 people or fewer. All restaurants must close by 10 p.m. and bars that do not serve food are not allowed to open. Retail, churches and personal services limited to 25% capacity.

The new restrictions in the city go into effect on Thursday at 5 p.m.

Olszewski’s warning of looming tighter restrictions comes on the same day that Pfizer announced data the pharmaceutical company said shows its coronavirus vaccine candidate is more than 90% effective against the virus compared to patients placed on a placebo.

Baltimore County Health Officer Gregory Branch said residents cannot count on a vaccine in the short term.

“Even if we get the vaccine in our hands within the next two to four weeks, the initial vaccine will only be for a limited number of people,” said Branch, adding that widespread availability could take a year.

Hogan, in a message on Twitter Monday, wrote that “Maryland has reached a critical turning point in our fight against #COVID19.”

The governor has so far been resistant to imposing tougher statewide mandates, instead calling on local leader to make decisions for their own areas and to do a better job of enforcing existing mandates.

During a news conference last week, the governor warned of potential new restrictions and called on residents to wear masks and continue to use social distancing techniques and avoid large gatherings. He also called on local government leaders to do more to enforce existing mandates.

“So while we would prefer statewide action, our numbers are alarming,” said Olszewski. “We’re sounding the alarm bells today and saying if residents won’t stand up and there isn’t statewide action, we’ll be left with no choice but to consider taking those steps and we think that the next step would be gathering restrictions in Baltimore County. We’re prefer not to do that.”

 

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