Former Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein said Maryland is at a critical crossroads in its fight against the coronavirus.
“It’s a dangerous time for the state,” Sharfstein told MarylandReporter.com on Wednesday. We’re seeing that cases are surging around the country. In some places, the hospitals are filled. And they are building new hospitals or transporting patients out. And that could happen here in Maryland too. So this is really a moment of truth for the state-whether we can avoid a really serious crisis.”
Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday that effective Wednesday night at 5 p.m. indoor capacity at all bars in restaurants in the state will be reduced from 75% to 50%. Several of the state’s jurisdictions had already limited indoor dining capacity to 50% or less. Hogan has said he will not hesitate to take further action if the number of COVID cases in the state continues to climb.
One of the state’s top doctors praised Hogan’s decision to further limit indoor dining capacity.
“I think it’s wise,” Dr. Paul Christo, who is the associate professor in the Division of Pain Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, said.
Christo added: “I think we are reverting back to some of the measures that were taken initially in March and April. Not to the same degree. But he’s (Hogan) limiting social gatherings. So I think that’s wise.”
Christo said he believes it is possible that it might again be necessary for the state to implement a stay-at-home order.
“If the number of cases continues to rise then I think that’s likely to happen. If the cases can level-off, then probably not.”
Christo said it is crucial that Marylanders adhere to recommended safety protocols to limit the spread of the virus.
“I think we’re going to have be even stricter with regard to mask-wearing. I think everyone has to wear masks when they leave the immediacy of their home environment. Make sure it covers your nose and mouth. I think that over the last several months people have become more lax with respect to mask-wearing. Make sure that you still wash your hands for about twenty seconds or so. We are going to have to limit social gatherings. I think that was loosened over the summer. And I think now that we are seeing a rise in the number of cases I think unfortunately we are going to have to limit social gatherings-even small gatherings outside the immediacy of the family and the household. And that’s going to be difficult for the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas.”
Maryland’s business leaders said even though they understand the need for the revised indoor dining restrictions they are nevertheless concerning.
“The decision to limit indoor capacity is unfortunate even if understandable,” Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty said. “I am not sure of the fiscal impact as many people are still requesting outdoor seating or using carryout. The big impact will be in days ahead if the virus continues to spread and positivity rates increase coupled with colder temperatures. If those two things happen, many restaurants could be in trouble as well as employees who may see reduced hours.”
“The Governor’s decision and announcement yesterday were the least surprising thing to come out of the pandemic,” Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said. “Given the 40+ new diagnosed cases per day for the last 4-5 days just in Frederick County alone, we’d been anticipating some level of restrictions on any business or commercial activity where people gather. Honestly, I’m just relieved the level was only reduced by 25%, as it could have been much worse.”
Weldon added: “I’m deeply concerned about the viability of our small business infrastructure to survive if these restrictions last for a sustained period, but I also understand the logic used by public health professionals to implement the changes.”
There are 158,423 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Wednesday morning, according to the state’s Department of Health, and 4,100 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is 5.6%. CDC guidelines say that positivity rates at or above 5% present a serious threat to public health.