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County executive, health officer say Montgomery could start reopening soon

by Judith Hruz

Editor

County Executive Marc Elrich on May 20 said the first phase of reopening Montgomery County could begin in a week or two, but would not commit to a date, preferring to focus on the data needed to prove the county would not have an upsurge in COVID-19 cases when he loosens restrictions.

“I don’t want to promise a date because people focus on the date and not what we need to get there,” he said.

Elrich did not lift the stay-at-home order when Gov. Larry Hogan gave the go-ahead beginning at 5 p.m. May 15.

Overall in Maryland, the numbers of confirmed cases, hospitalizations, intensive care cases and deaths were trending downward or plateauing, Hogan had said, and had been for 14 days when he lifted the stay-at-home order.

But in response to the governor’s willingness to loosen restrictions, Elrich had said the number of COVID-19 cases, deaths and hospitalizations remained too high in the county.

“Life in Montgomery County will continue as it was,” Elrich said during a press conference on May 14.

“Local health conditions don’t warrant this change in policy,” he had added.

Six days later, however, Elrich and County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the numbers had shown improvement, but one of the most important factors, the number of available beds in Intensive Care Units (ICU), remained too high.

Gayles said four of the six hospitals in the county were at ICU capacity that week.

He said those numbers need to decrease as “a good measure of our hospital capacity to absorb cases as we move forward.”

Elrich and Gayles said that lifting the county executive’s stay-at-home order and beginning to slowly reopen the county will be based on a variety of measures that include the following:

The number of new cases in the setting of increased testing;

COVID-19-related hospitalization rate;

COVID-19 related ICU rate;

COVID-19 related deaths;

COVID-19-like and influenza-like illnesses presenting to the health care system;

Percentage of acute care bed used by patients with COVID-19;

Percentage of ICU bed used by patients with COVID-19; and

Percentage of emergency/critical care equipment used by patients with COVID-19 (such as ventilators).

Gayles said he wants to assure county residents that “we are making strides and moving in the right direction.”

He and Elrich said they are not sure what the first phase of recovery would include when the stay-at-home order is lifted, but it will include the elements needed to keep county residents safe.

When the governor lifted the mandate to stay at home except for essential needs, he reminded Marylanders to take precautions and be sensible about their activities.

“While lifting stay-at-home order is a positive step forward, it does not mean we are safe or that the crisis is over,” Hogan had said.

“Low risk does not mean no risk,” he had said.

Stage One of the “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” plan includes moving from a stay-at-home order to a “Safer at Home” public health advisory.

Marylanders, particularly those who are older and more vulnerable, are strongly advised to continue staying home as much as possible.

According to the governor, employers should continue to encourage telework for their employees when possible and people who can work from home should continue to do so. Maryland residents should continue wearing masks in indoor public areas, retail stores and on public transportation.

Additionally, Marylanders should continue practicing physical distancing, continue avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, keep washing their hands often, and frequently sanitize high-touch areas, the governor said.

Elrich said he agreed to the governor’s conditions of social spacing, cleaning the inside of workplaces and wearing masks, among others.

He said that if Montgomery County residents and businesspeople can agree to the conditions, “then opening is possible.”

 

County announces new COVID-19 data dashboard

 

Elrich and Gayles introduced a new COVID-19 data dashboard that provides information on hospitalizations, the number of patients in intensive care units (ICU) and the number of ventilators in use, as well as previously available information regarding the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths.

The information will help guide the county’s decisions on when to lift its Stay-at-Home Executive Order.

As of press time, Montgomery County had 9,432 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 502 confirmed deaths.

 

    For more on COVID-19, visit:

    State of Maryland, www.health.maryland.gov/coronavirus or www.governor.maryland.gov/recovery

    Montgomery County, https://montgomerycountymd.gov/hhs/rightnav/coronavirus.html or call 311

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, www.cdc.gov

    National Institutes of Health, www.nih.gov

    World Health Organization, www.WHO.int

    Small Business Administration, www.sba.gov

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