Although cases are surging in Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore counties, Hogan said statewide numbers “are all trending in the right direction” after declining sharply in June.
“But as soon as we start to see numbers that don’t look good, it’s going to cause us to take whatever actions that are necessary,” the governor said in an appearance on C-SPAN. “My goal is to try to keep the economy safely open, because the economic crisis is nearly as bad as or just as bad as the health crisis.”
Health officials in the state’s five most populous jurisdictions, including Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, have asked Hogan to reconsider what activities the state permits.
Experts and health officials in Maryland, Virginia and D.C. say they are worried about mask-wearing and social distancing fatigue, especially among younger residents. They are also concerned about people traveling into the region from elsewhere and bringing the virus with them.
On Tuesday, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. (D) ordered residents to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces, including houses of worship and recreational spaces — and encouraged them to don masks outdoors when social distancing is not possible.
State rules mandate masks only inside retail establishments.
Olszewski also called on Hogan to stop indoor service at bars and restaurants, saying 53 percent of cases reported in Baltimore County over the past three days involved people under the age of 35.
The county is experiencing its highest surge of new infections. Excluding nursing homes and other long-term-care facilities, the seven-day daily average for new cases was 97 on Tuesday, compared with the previous peak of 94 in May. The positivity rate has also increased in the past two weeks, to 5.92 percent.
“To keep us from losing ground, we must act now,” said Baltimore County Health Officer Gregory Wm. Branch.
Anne Arundel County Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman said the rise in the rate of transmission there should worry everyone in the region. The metric, which indicates how many people are infected by each newly infected person, has gone from below 1 in June to 1.28 this week.
Anne Arundel also is seeing an increase in hospitalizations, while its rate of positive test results has consistently risen, from 3.1 percent in June to 4.1 percent now.
“If we do nothing, it will increase slowly until it hits a tipping point . . . and then it’s really bad,” said Kalyanaraman, who held an emergency town hall Monday evening about the surge in cases in the county. “Every action has a consequence, and every inaction has a consequence.”
Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles said his county is considering rolling back restrictions but would do so in a “targeted way.” Montgomery’s test positivity rate has hovered around 3 percent in recent weeks, lower than the state’s average of about 4.8 percent. The county is in Phase 2 of its reopening, which is more restrictive than the state plan and still includes, for example, caps on the size of social gatherings.
“We’ve had a fairly restrictive plan that has allowed us to plateau,” Gayles said in a briefing to lawmakers on Tuesday. “So we’re not blindly saying, ‘We’re closing this and closing that.’ ”
Though the District and its suburbs have so far avoided the sharp uptick seen elsewhere in the region, “we’d be naive to think those spikes won’t come and affect us here,” said Montgomery County Council member Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large).
Gayles said that “even a small increase in cases among young adults, who are more likely to be asymptomatic, can cause significant problems for others.”
Prince George’s County said it plans to begin stepping up enforcement of face coverings inside local businesses this weekend. County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said some establishments have been lax about complying.
Public health experts say the entire region is at higher risk as more people travel from hot spots — such as Arizona or Florida — and a sense of weariness with the pandemic settles in.
“Every place in the country is at risk right now,” said Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
Maryland, Virginia and the District reported 1,944 new cases Tuesday and 38 deaths. Maryland had 860 new cases, Virginia had 996 and the District had 88. The greater Washington region’s seven-day average of daily new cases was 1,813, up from 969 on July 7. The seven-day average for daily deaths has been below 30 since early July.
Anne Monroe, an epidemiologist and associate research professor at George Washington University’s Milken Institute School of Public Health, said that “people have fatigue of all the messages” to keep their distance, wear masks and wash their hands.
But, she said, many people have the same goals — to reopen schools and for businesses to stay open. “The only way to get there is if we all follow the regulations in good faith,” she said.
In the District, a spokeswoman for Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the city will soon publish new guidelines to encourage more mask use. “What we’re seeing is people are starting to relax a lot,” said the spokeswoman, Susana Castillo. “People are doing private gatherings.”
D.C. Health Director LaQuandra S. Nesbitt has said she doesn’t have clear enough data on where people are catching the virus to curtail any of the business or social activity reopenings but would eventually consider doing so.
In Virginia, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has ordered health inspectors to crack down on taverns and restaurants with bar areas that have allowed people to gather in close quarters or have ignored the state’s mandate for face coverings.
Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s spokeswoman, said the governor has directed the Alcoholic Beverage Control Authority, which regulates liquor sales in the state, to develop a plan for an earlier cutoff time for sales inside restaurants, with the goal of keeping younger patrons from gathering longer inside those poorly ventilated spaces. The new cutoff time is expected to be announced later this week, Yarmosky said.
The state is particularly concerned about the recent spike in the Hampton Roads area, including Virginia Beach, which had a positivity rate of 12.1 percent as of Tuesday, compared with 3.5 percent in early June.
Over the weekend, state health officials conducted 11 inspections in the Norfolk area, suspending the food permits of three restaurants found to be in violation of mask or physical distancing requirements. Virginia Beach has suspended the food licenses of two establishments so far.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney (D) said he won’t hesitate to impose further restrictions if cases again surge there. “In the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment, everyone needs to be concerned about the impact of further reopening our city,” Stoney said in a text message.
Worries about the virus’s resurgence have so far been less pronounced in Northern Virginia, the most densely populated part of the state.
New infections there accounted for nearly half of the state’s total in late May but represented just 17 percent of the daily total on Tuesday.
Still, local officials said they have been watching their metrics.
“We’re steady and stable, but remember it’s taking longer to get test results back from commercial labs,” said Alison Ansher, health director in Prince William County, referring to delays in the turnaround for test results.
Ansher said her county has seen a small increase in infections, mostly among younger residents, and a spike in complaints about people not wearing masks inside restaurants and retail stores. There were 14 such complaints on Monday, she said.
Loudoun County Health Director David Goodfriend said his county has also received more complaints. “But I can’t say whether that’s more people not complying with the face covering requirement, or that more folks are comfortable letting us know about it,” Goodfriend said.
An outbreak last month among teenagers and young adults who traveled to Myrtle Beach, S.C., for a “beach week” trip appears to have been contained, Goodfriend said, and was “a huge wake-up call for Loudoun and a number of other jurisdictions in the region.”
Since then, he said, more residents have been wearing masks and abiding by physical distancing requirements. “That is going to be the new normal for us going into next year,” Goodfriend said. “This is easily a year-long effort at behavior change.”
Rachel Chason, Dana Hedgpeth, Gregory S. Schneider and Julie Zauzmer contributed to this report.