The email was sent to Fran Phillips, the state’s deputy secretary for public health, and signed by the health officers in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Howard County, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County.
“Our jurisdictions are prepared to act quickly to address these concerns but would prefer for the state to take action to create a unified, standardized approach to address this resurgence of cases,” they wrote.
A spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan (R), Mike Ricci, said in a statement that the state looks “closely at the data every day with public health experts” and will continue to emphasize caution.
Health experts have told The Washington Post, however, that Maryland should close bars and reimpose other restrictions if the state wants to contain the virus and get children back into classrooms this fall.
“We have stressed to local health officers the importance of enforcing the public health orders currently in place, particularly at bars and restaurants,” Ricci said. “We cannot allow a small segment of bad actors to squander the sacrifices that Marylanders have made. But as the governor has said, if necessary, he is prepared to take action.”
The seven-day average of daily new coronavirus infections fell sharply in Maryland in June but has been steadily trending upward since early July. On Sunday, the state reported 925 new cases, the highest number since late May, when there were more than 1,000 new cases reported daily.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have also started showing slight upticks. As of Monday, the number of patients currently hospitalized in Maryland was 463, up from a low of 385 about two weeks ago. The total number of coronavirus-related deaths has continued to decline, but experts say it can often take several weeks for an increase in cases to be followed by an increase in deaths.
Hogan, who has been touting his forthcoming memoir on national news shows, said Monday that Maryland is doing well in comparison to other states that have recently emerged as hot spots. Maryland, Virginia and the District have so far avoided the dramatic surges in infections seen in other parts of the country, but cases are again increasing in all three jurisdictions.
Florida has reported more than 10,000 new cases daily. California is seeing the highest test positivity rate since April, and officials there have already rolled back some of the restrictions that were previously lifted, including closing bars and prohibiting religious services in some counties.
“Thankfully we’re doing a really good job in declining numbers, but many states across the country are spiking,” Hogan said Monday on “The View.” He also criticized President Trump for not leading a stronger national response to the virus.
In Virginia, the seven-day average for new cases reached 966 on Sunday, which is the highest it has been since June 2. The District’s seven-day average has climbed back up to 62 after stabilizing around 33 for two weeks.
In mid-May, when Hogan lifted the state’s stay-at-home order, he allowed local leaders to decide whether they were ready to begin lifting restrictions in their jurisdictions. Local elected officials were left scrambling on how best to move forward.
Some decided to opt out and waited before moving to the first phase of reopening.
With the entire state now in Phase 2 of Hogan’s reopening plan, the local health officers said they are considering whether to once again close indoor amusement facilities, indoor recreational facilities and indoor mall spaces. Their email also said they are considering “restrictions on travel to and from areas deemed Covid hotspots.”
Bars in Maryland currently cannot have people standing or people congregating, but booth service and tables are allowed. Experts said there is a tendency in those poorly ventilated areas for patrons to congregate in tight groups and talk loudly, potentially spreading the virus even more while not wearing masks, make them higher risks for contamination.
Hogan last week asked local officials to step up enforcement of social distancing requirements at such establishments, saying that “some are flagrantly violating the law and endangering public health.”
“We have had just countless outbreaks linked to bars and other indoor gatherings,” said Joshua Sharfstein, vice dean for public health practice and community engagement at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “As cases are going up, more people are going into these environments and there is a greater risk that a whole bunch more people get it. If we want to be serious about opening schools, we have to do everything we can to eliminate excess risk.”
Leana S. Wen, an emergency physician and public health professor at George Washington University, said creating a safe environment for schools to reopen in the fall should take precedent over allowing bars to remain open.
“Maybe we should determine that these types of settings should not be open in the meantime in order to keep the level of infection relatively low so that school can open,” said Wen, who was previously the city of Baltimore’s health commissioner. “If we as a society say our priority is, say, reopening schools in August, then we need to be reimposing some of these measures.”
In late June, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) made a last-minute reversal in policy to stop bars from reopening, citing what experts have said about bars serving as sources of coronavirus resurgences in other parts of the country.
Maryland’s six largest jurisdictions have all seen a rebound in new infections in recent days, with Howard and Anne Arundel showing the most dramatic increases.
In Howard, the seven-day average in new cases has jumped from five in mid-June to around 40, rivaling the figures that were reported at the peak of the crisis in May and June. In Anne Arundel, the seven-day average has jumped from just above 20 in late June to more than 60 this weekend.
At an online town hall Monday evening, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D) said the county is looking at imposing new restrictions in response to the increase but is hoping that the state will consider a more coordinated effort to roll back its recovery plan.
County health officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman said the county is not only seeing an increase in cases but a jump in the rate of spread. When the rate of spread is less than one person, Kalyanaraman said, the virus is being controlled. Anne Arundel County’s rate of spread has recently increased to 1.21.
“That’s concerning to us because that means the virus is spreading faster and faster,” Kalyanaraman said.
Prince George’s and Montgomery, which lead the state in overall cases since March, have also seen their daily case numbers increase over the past two weeks.
In Prince George’s, the seven-day average has climbed to 131, up from the low of 70 in early July, but still significantly lower than the average of more than 350 that the county was reporting in May.
In Montgomery, where more than 16,000 people have tested positive, the seven-day average in new cases has reached 93, up from about 65 in late June, but also markedly lower than its peak in May of more than 240 cases.
School districts across the state are weighing whether to return to school buildings in the fall, with most opting against in-person instruction.
Prince George’s County announced last week that it plans to have 100 percent remote instruction at least through January. Pittman said Monday that Anne Arundel will have online learning for the first semester.
Montgomery County, the state’s largest school district, released a proposal earlier this month that calls for gradually bringing students back to campus up to two days a week in the fall.
Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.