Maryland Governor Larry Hogan has no plans to restrict indoor dining and move the state backward, he announced in a press conference Wednesday. “We do not intend to suddenly close all of our small businesses and put those employees out of work … We do not want to crush our economy and punish 95% of the Marylanders and businesses who are doing the right thing,” said Hogan.
On the contrary, several local leaders are urging the governor to announce more restrictions due to the recent uptick in cases. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman are among those calling on the governor to restrict indoor service. On Tuesday, Olszewski said, “Maryland’s increasing case numbers are troubling and public health officials have consistently warned us about how indoor dining and congregating in bars can play a significant role in increased COVID-19 case counts.” Earlier Wednesday, Baltimore City Mayor Jack Young announced that indoor dining and bar service will not be permitted effective Friday at 5 p.m.
While Hogan insists that now is not the time to announce statewide restrictions, he will not hesitate to do so when he deems it necessary. He also encourages each county to make individual decisions based on the trends and data.
Ocean City Restaurants and Bars
Ocean City restaurants have been working hard to follow public health guidelines and serve visitors. However, the pandemic has made finding employees even more difficult. “We are in the exhaustion mode as we do not have the 4,000 J1 Summer Work Travel students in town this year and the extra federal unemployment which has led to extreme staffing shortages,” said Susan Jones, Executive Director of the Ocean City Hotel-Motel-Restaurant Association.
Despite widespread adherence to public health guidelines, the list of Ocean City restaurant closures continues to grow. Among the closures are Fish Tales, Blu Crabhouse and Raw Bar, Harborside, and the 45th Street Tap House. Some restaurants have closed out of an abundance of caution while others have closed due to staff members testing positive. For a full list of all restaurant closures and changes, click here.
When asked about the correlation between recent restaurant closures and the increase in COVID-19 cases, Travis Brown, Public Affairs Officer for the Worcester County Health Department, said, “Businesses self-closing due to staff testing positive is generally not a metric used to determine if there is an outbreak of an infectious disease such as COVID-19. However, our recent increase in per capita cases compared to the State does indicate that COVID-19 has spiked in Worcester this month (though some of that is likely due to expanded testing locally).”
The Latest Data
Governor Hogan is alarmed about recent trends in the wrong direction. “We are concerned that the gap between the positivity rates among Marylanders under 35 and Marylanders 35 and over is as big as it has ever been,” said Hogan.
- There are now 80, 172 COVID-19 cases in the State of Maryland, with 435 cases in Worcester County
- Cases in Worcester County have increased by 135% since Memorial Day and 49% since Independence Day
- The seven-day statewide positivity rate is 4.49% and the positivity rate in Worcester County is 6.93%
- The positivity rate for those over 35 is 3.50%
- The positivity rate for those under 35 is 6.57%
- 505 people are hospitalized, which is up from 484 on Tuesday
COVID-19 Testing in Worcester County
Free tests are available in Worcester County at the West Ocean City Park and Ride on Mondays and Wednesdays from 8:30 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. Testing is by appointment only and you must bring ID. The latest data shows that 12.6% of the Worcester County population has been tested for COVID-19.
During Monday’s Ocean City Mayor and Council Meeting, City Manager Doug Miller provided a COVID-19 update and said that 864 people have been tested at the West Ocean City Park and Ride. He added that 682 more appointments are scheduled and that health officials are looking to add another day of testing due to high demand.
Governor Hogan asked town officials to use the convention center for testing on Friday and Saturday mornings. So far, 120 people have been tested at that location.
The Worcester County Health Department is making it easier to view your test results. On Tuesday, the department tweeted, “If you received a COVID-19 test from Worcester County Health Department, you can get easy, online access to lab results you can understand. Simply text: MAKO to 66349 or, if you don’t have a smartphone, go to: mako.luminatehealth.com to set up your patient portal.”
Should You Get Tested After Visiting Ocean City?
With more than 220 testing sites available across Maryland, many people are wondering if they should be tested after visiting Ocean City. Travis Brown says that you shouldn’t get tested without a valid reason. “Simply visiting Ocean City would not be cause enough to require testing. We recommend testing if you are experiencing possible symptoms of COVID-19 (coughing, fever, chills, sore throat, shortness of breath, other flu-like symptoms), or if you’ve recently come into close contact with a confirmed positive COVID-19 case. A close contact is someone who has been within 6 feet for more than 15 minutes with a positive COVID-19 case.” said Brown.
To find a testing site, click here.
How to Stay Safe in Ocean City
If you still plan on visiting Ocean City, there are ways to stay safe. “We want to remind everyone to continue to wear a face covering, avoid large crowds, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and stay home if you are sick. When there are a lot of visitors in town it can be more difficult to avoid crowds; if you’re going to the beach or Boardwalk, try to go during less busy hours like early morning,” said Brown.
Governor Hogan’s Testing Concerns
As the spread of the coronavirus continues and more tests are needed, the governor is worried about testing availability. “We are concerned about attempts by the federal administration to cut funding for testing, at a time when there are testing delays and shortages around the country. We continue to plan ahead with our long-term strategic stockpile of tests that will take us into the fall,” Hogan said.
Pointing to the tests he and First Lady Yumi Hogan acquired from South Korea, the governor says that there is an adequate supply of tests to last the state through November. However, if the outbreak continues, the governor says he will need to acquire more tests.
Despite earlier criticisms of the White House’s response to the pandemic, Governor Hogan did say that the federal government has made improvements in some areas. Still, he feels that the states need more aid. The National Governors Association, which is led by Hogan, is pleading with the Senate to approve funding for states in the next COVID-19 relief bill.
Governor Hogan was joined by State Superintendent of Schools Dr. Karen Salmon, who provided an update on reopening plans. Nine school systems across the state have already announced that instruction for the first semester will be entirely virtual, while others are weighing a hybrid option in which students would receive a mix of in-person and remote instruction.
Each county has until August 14th to submit a plan to the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE).
While MSDE is giving each school system the authority to dictate their own plan for the fall, there are some “guardrails.” Schools must follow CDC guidelines and adhere to protocols from state health officials regarding an outbreak (at least one person tests positive). There are also benchmarks for equity, learning gaps, curricula frameworks, ADA standards, etc.
Face coverings will be required for all students and staff if and when they return to school buildings.
Dr. Salmon promised that the fall will be much improved from the spring. “I’m anticipating that we will see much different results moving forward,” said Dr. Salmon.
The move to virtual instruction may indeed help tourism in Ocean City. “Virtual learning will be quite stressful for parents. Kids have an innate need for socialization and keeping them out of the classroom does not help. That being said, it is certainly an opportunity for us to market bringing family to the beach and have class time under the beach umbrella.” said Jones.
Governor Hogan strongly recommends that Marylanders to keep away from areas experiencing rapid increases in cases. If you do choose to travel, you should get tested and self-quarantine until receiving a negative test.
New York officials have added Maryland to their quarantine list, but the governor said that they are using different metrics than our state. Regardless, he wants Marylanders to remain cautious.
Contact tracing continues to be an integral part of Maryland’s recovery plan. Of course, it is only successful if Marylanders answer the phone. “Over the last month, our contact tracers have been successful in reaching nearly 75 percent of cases. We need to get that number up. If you get a call from ‘MD COVID,’ answer the call to help us stop the spread,” said Hogan.
The hot topic of voting by mail was also addressed by Governor Hogan. “We are encouraging everyone to vote by mail. If you do not want to vote by mail: by state law, we have eight days of early voting, and we are encouraging Marylanders to vote early in order to avoid any crowds on Election Day,” said Hogan.
To watch the full press conference, click here.