In a letter to Hogan (R) on Sunday, the lawmakers cited numerous unmet promises from his administration regarding the allocation of resources to Prince George’s, from personal protection equipment such as masks and gowns for hospital workers to testing kits and hospital beds. Prince George’s has been left to battle the crisis alone, they said.
“We are alarmed at your Administration’s silence and lack of response to urgent requests from Prince George’s County, the hardest hit jurisdiction in the State — these requests being made earnestly in an effort to protect Prince Georgians and save lives,” state Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s) and Del. Erek L. Barron (D-Prince George’s) wrote in the letter on behalf of the entire county delegation.
“Prince George’s County requests … demands that our County should be prioritized, not further ignored,” the letter said. “The County has suffered far too many sicknesses, serious hospitalizations, ICU admittances and ultimately too many deaths during this pandemic and we cannot and should not have to respond to this crisis alone, anymore.”
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci defended the state’s response to the county, point-by-point, saying the letter “lacks credibility.”
Ricci said the state has had multiple communications with county leaders in recent weeks to respond to inquiries and has delivered the county its share of supplies and resources.
Prince George’s, which has become a hot spot in the Washington region for coronavirus infections, needs at least an additional 3,500 tests per week, the lawmakers said, urging the state to “prioritize hotspots throughout the State, starting with Prince George’s County.”
As of Sunday, the county had 11,316 confirmed infections and 429 covid-19 deaths. The lawmakers criticized Hogan’s recently announced decision to reopen the state as premature.
On Thursday, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said she was extending the county’s stay-at-home restrictions through June 1. She said the county has not seen the declines in hospitalizations, deaths and new cases — or obtained the quantity of tests and protective equipment — necessary to safely reopen.
“Your recently announced plans to reopen are not justified by data, facts or your own previously-stated metrics and roadmap to recovery,” the lawmakers wrote.
While the state helped reopen parts of Laurel Regional Hospital, providing 135 additional beds, the letter said, it has not “responded to requests for additional medical tents and critical-care staffing needs in portions of the County urgently at need.”
To claims that the county should be prioritized for increased testing, Ricci said: “The state established the first mass testing site in the state in the county, at FedEx Field. In addition, the letter does not mention that on the most recent county call, the governor committed to set aside one-third of the most recent federal shipment of swabs and transport media for the counties. We are happy to field that request from the county to help expand their testing capacity.”
Ricci said the letter also neglects to mention that the state is opening an ICU modular unit at Adventist Fort Washington on Tuesday and has set up 14 temporary units for the county.
He said personal protective equipment is distributed to local health departments on a weekly basis and last week Prince George’s received 3,060 gowns, 81,000 KN95 masks, 60,750 N95 masks, 22,950 face shields, 162,000 gloves, 324,000 surgical masks and 450 IR thermometers.
Meanwhile, the number of coronavirus cases in the District, Maryland and Virginia combined continued to rise Sunday — topping 76,000 — even as officials in the region inched further toward reopening by adding testing sites and permitting some businesses to relaunch.
Infections in the Washington region stood at 76,315 as the weekend drew to a close, with a total of 1,622 new patients added overnight Sunday. In the same period, the District, Maryland and Virginia recorded 50 new covid-19 deaths, bringing the cumulative number of fatalities from the virus to 3,384.
Maryland, which leads the region in both cases and deaths, was responsible for most of the new infections and fatalities, adding 836 new cases and 35 deaths. However, in one hopeful sign, hospitalizations related to the virus hit a three-week low at roughly 1,400.
“We have been making significant progress,” Hogan tweeted Saturday, along with a picture of himself wearing an Old Bay-themed face mask. He added that the sunny weekend weather made it “a gorgeous day to practice social distancing.”
Maryland’s expanded testing strategy, announced last month, includes adding drive-through sites and mass testing facilities in areas experiencing outbreaks. Widespread testing is critical, experts say, to determine the impacts of the virus and make reopening decisions — as Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) have already begun to do.
On Friday, both states allowed some businesses to reopen, albeit with restrictions. Restaurants in some parts of Virginia can reopen with half-capacity, outdoor seating, while barbershops and salons in both states can accept appointments.
Crowds of visitors flocked to Ocean City during the first weekend since Maryland relaxed some coronavirus restrictions, and social media images from the beach left questions about how the tourist area will ensure visitors maintain proper social distancing.
The summerlike weather Saturday and pleasant temperatures Sunday drew thousands to the popular Ocean City Boardwalk. Town officials had said this weekend would be a test of operations as the state reopens. Bigger crowds are expected to head to the beach for Memorial Day weekend.
On Saturday and Sunday, scores of people were seen walking on the Boardwalk, some very close to one another and only a few wearing face coverings. There were long lines at food stands and major traffic backups on Route 50.
The Ocean City Police Department issued a “friendly reminder” about requirements in the state to wear face coverings in public indoor areas and to practice physical social distancing.
Jessica Waters, acting tourism director for the city and communications director, said most people appeared to be following the rules.
“People were excited to be back near the beach and Boardwalk, enjoying being outside, the sunshine and fresh salt air,” Waters said. “The people on the beach were well spread out and most people on the Boardwalk appeared conscious of social distancing. All in all it appeared that people were trying to do the right thing by respecting the people around them.”
While the District and its suburbs continue to remain mostly locked down, the city took its first, tentative steps toward kick-starting commerce Sunday in announcing a pilot program that permits bookstores, art and office supply shops, toy and music stores to offer curbside and front-door pickup. To qualify, shop owners must offer authorities a detailed plan proving their ability to enforce social distancing and pursue adequate sanitization measures.
The initiative also stipulates that shops must let customers place their orders ahead of time, either online or over the phone, and that the businesses must be independently owned and located in the District. Enrolled stores will be required to share “data and information” with D.C. officials about their operations, according to a post on the D.C. government website.
At least four businesses have already been granted waivers under the program: Lost City Bookstores, Middle C Music, Child’s Play Toys and Books and the iconic D.C. bookseller Politics and Prose, which manages three locations in the nation’s capital. The permit allows the four to reopen Monday, and to stay open through at least June 8.
Bradley Graham, owner of Politics and Prose, received an email late Saturday that said he had been granted a waiver. Since the District’s stay-at-home order began in late March, the business had switched to a delivery-only operation that was costly and slow, he said. Sales were sputtering and money from the federal Paycheck Protection Program was nearing its end, Graham said.
“We are very excited and think this service will be popular with many of our customers,” he said. “Books are at least as essential if not more so than alcoholic drinks, so I am glad we will also be allowed to do pickup service or curbside delivery.”
The program’s rollout came on the same day that the District announced eight new deaths, bringing its overall fatality count to 383. The city also added 81 new cases — many of them in hard-hit Wards 4 and 5, which have each recorded more than 1,000 patients — raising its total number of infected to 7,123.
As the region slowly reopens, testing is also expanding. In Maryland, a testing site opened in Carroll County over the weekend, one of about 50 locations dotted around the state and available to serve anxious residents who suspect they may have contracted the coronavirus.
Hogan tweeted photos of the Carroll County spot Sunday, the first state-sponsored, community-based testing facility, located at the Carroll County Agriculture Center in Westminster.
“Drive-through testing provides an easily accessible option for many citizens, and we now have the resources to continue to expand these sites throughout the state,” Hogan tweeted. “I am pleased to see this model being used in a facility like the Carroll County Ag Center because it represents the expansion of our community-based testing program to new locations with new testing models.”
Hogan has previously said Maryland is focusing on testing people exposed in “high-priority outbreaks and clusters” such as those in nursing homes, prisons and hospitals. On Sunday, officials confirmed the virus-related death of a second patient at Spring Grove Hospital Center, the state psychiatric hospital.
Virginia and the District also have set goals for increased testing, and have added new sites over the past few days. As of Sunday, more than 445,000 people had been tested across all three jurisdictions.
Virginia boasts about 50 testing locations. Prince William County is making testing available to its residents Monday and Tuesday at two locations: Hylton Memorial Chapel in Woodbridge and Stonewall Jackson High School in Manassas.
Residents can receive drive-through or walk-up free testing at the two sites from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Prince William Board Chair Ann Wheeler (D-At Large) said that increasing testing remains a priority in the county to understand the virus’s impact on the community.
“We know it is very important to have a full understanding of the impact of the virus in the county, so that we can keep others healthy and work toward meeting the necessary health metrics for reopening,” Wheeler said in a statement Saturday.
Meanwhile, the number of infections and deaths in Virginia continue to climb. The state reported 705 new cases and seven new deaths Sunday, raising its total number of patients to 30,388 and its fatality count to 1,009.
Fairfax County, already the state leader in deaths and cases, accounted for the majority of the new fatalities — adding four, and bringing its death toll to 282. Fairfax also was responsible for most of the new cases, reporting 257 infections. As of Sunday, the county had seen 7,643 infections — approximately 3,000 more than have been reported in Prince William, the county with the next-highest total (3,666).
In Alexandria, where 1,476 infections and 34 deaths have been reported, police were investigating anti-Semitic fliers being spread around the community blaming Jews for the pandemic, Mayor Justin Wilson said, adding that the pamphlets were “hateful [and] nonsensical.”
Correction: A previous version of this article incorrectly gave the number of virus hospitalizations in Maryland as of May 17. It has been updated.
Emily Davies and Fenit Nirappil contributed to this report.