Although Gov. Larry Hogan has given the OK for the state to start reopening on Friday, Baltimore City will maintain its stay-at-home order, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced today, saying the city does not have the capacity to test for COVID-19 to safely start bringing back non-essential businesses.
“I have been monitoring this situation daily and I don’t feel comfortable sending residents, including young children and older adults, back out into the public at this time,” the mayor said.
Under the order, all Baltimoreans are to remain at home unless they have to go out to work an essential job or complete an essential trip, such as going to get food or medicine, or going to a doctor’s appointment.
People who do go outside should wear face coverings and practice social distancing.
Young did not offer a timeline for reopening, but he said the decision to allow non-essential businesses, factories and houses of worship to reopen will be made using data and guidelines from health officials.
Young blamed state officials for the lack of tests in Baltimore.
“To date, the state has failed to provide local jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, with the testing resources we need to be able to safely reopen,” he said.
He added that it would be “irresponsible” to relax restrictions given Baltimore’s current testing ability.
According to guidance from the World Health Organization, Baltimore should be conducting between 2,700 to 2,800 tests per day. “We’re not there yet,” he said.
From the period of April 27 to May 3, the city averaged 488 tests per day, Young said, noting that the number of tests conducted goes down on the weekend. Between May 4-10, the figure had only gone up to an average of 571 per day.
The mayor said all the test swabs the city has used at its three sites have been acquired by the local government and medical organizations with whom the city has partnered.
On Thursday, Hogan announced, effective 5 p.m. Friday, the state would lift its stay-at-home order and allow retail stores, barber shops, hair salons, manufacturers, places of worship and other select locations to reopen at limited capacity.
But he said all 24 jurisdictions in Maryland would have the final say on whether any or all of those places can in fact reopen.
Hogan clarified that the kits were never going to be distributed to the counties, because they are used to process the swabs collected at various testing sites.
“That’s what the scientists use when they finalize the testing. They don’t go out to anywhere,” he said. “What goes out to the counties is the swabs and the extraction tubes.”
After requesting swabs and extraction tubes for months, the state recently received 75,000 sets from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which will be distributed to the counties, Hogan said. The federal agency has committed to deliver a total of 225,000 sets.
Shortly after Hogan’s announcement, Young and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. released a joint statement expressing reservations about moving forward with the plan. They said the Baltimore region still needs more personal protective equipment, increased testing capacity and more contact tracing.
“We’ve seen some progress in each of these areas, but we have to do even more,” they said.
Olszewski and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, who also expressed concerns about Hogan’s decision, both opted for limited re-openings of their jurisdictions.
Both counties will allow retail stores to open back up, but only for curbside pick-up. All manufacturers will reopen starting 5 p.m. Friday. And both are still prohibiting gatherings of 10 or more people, restrictions that will continue to apply to houses of worship.
Baltimore County is ordering personal services establishments such as barbershops and salons to remain closed, but Anne Arundel County is letting them take appointments one customer at a time.
When Hogan rolled out his three-step “Roadmap to Recovery” on April 24, he established three benchmarks for the state to start easing restrictions: 14-day declines or plateaus in the number of new deaths, intensive care patients and hospitalizations.
After declining somewhat in late April, the city’s number of cases has continued to grow, according to local data, including reports of 198 cases on May 5 and 267 cases on May 9–representing the two highest one-day totals during the pandemic.
Baltimore’s seven-day average of fatal cases is the highest it’s been since the start of the pandemic, according to local data.
And as of today, the city is using 86 percent of its intensive care units and 83 percent of its acute care units.
Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said that in addition to increased testing, the city needs to see the rate of positive tests of less than 10 percent. Currently, it’s 21 percent, she said.
She said the city is planning to use mobile testing units to reach neighborhoods all over Baltimore, but more supplies are still needed.
“Until we have received more test kits from the state, it is very difficult to gather the accurate information necessary to plan a safe reopening of the city,” she said.
Dzirasa also said Baltimore has experienced problems with contact tracing because some people who have tested positive for the disease either do not answer the phone or are not forthcoming about their movements and who they may have been in contact with.
“It is necessary both for the safety of our residents and for the eventual reopening of the city that residents who’ve received these calls take them very seriously,” she said, later adding that contact tracing is the best way to stop the spread of the virus while there is no vaccine.
This story has been updated.
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