PRINCE GEORGE’S COUNTY, MD — Prince George’s County relaxed some of its coronavirus regulations on Wednesday, allowing more businesses to reopen. Despite the easing restrictions, the county remains in Stage 2 of coronavirus recovery.
Banquet halls may reopen at capacities of 50 percent or 150 people, whichever is fewer. No more than six people are allowed at a table, and social distancing must continue in the event space. Buffets remain prohibited.
Cigar, hookah and vape shops can open for retail sales only sales only. Smoking in the store is not yet allowed. The businesses can have a maximum of 1 person per 100 square feet of sales space, but their capacities may not eclipse 50 percent their usual mark. Workers must wear appropriate personal protective equipment.
Tanning salons can also reopen with the same regulations as the county’s other personal services. The salons may only serve customers who book appointments. One client is allowed per 200 square feet of service area, but the businesses must cap their capacities at 50 percent.
Indoor pools, both public and private, may open at half capacity. Patrons must adhere to social distancing guidelines and wear masks when they are not in the water.
Youthmay now resume in small groups. This includes soccer, baseball and lacrosse among other sports. Practices and games may not include more than nine team members and one coach. No more than 100 people are allowed in a given area.
The rules for social gatherings remain unchanged. No more than one person or family unit is allowed per 200 square feet. The crowd shall not exceed 50 people either. The events must follow whichever guideline offers them a lower capacity.
A few regulations tightened with Alsobrooks’ most recent update. Parents are no longer allowed inside child care services to pick up or drop off their children.
Additionally, anybody over the age of 5 must wear a mask in all indoor public spaces. Children aged 2 to 4 are strongly encouraged to mask up. The previous rule applied to anybody older than 9.
“As we announce several additional openings under our County’s Phase 2 reopening, I want to
remind our residents that this virus is still present in our community,” County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said in a press release. “Please remember to continue following COVID-19 safety guidelines to keep yourself and your fellow Prince Georgians safe, including wearing a face mask, practicing physical distancing and washing your hands frequently.”
Prince George’s County is one of four Maryland jurisdictions to remain in Stage 2 of coronavirus recovery. Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City and Montgomery County are also still in the second phase of reopenings.
The remaining 20 counties entered the third and final stage on Sept. 4 when Gov. Larry Hogan said that all Maryland businesses can reopen at their county’s discretion. He emphasized, however, that jurisdictions can move at their own pace and that businesses may only reopen when their local government permits.
Prince George’s County continues to have the most coronavirus cases in the state, and its metrics are higher than many Maryland averages.
The most recent data clock Prince George’s positivity rate at 5.79 percent, which is 2.46 percent higher than the statewide clip. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says municipalities should aim to keep their positivity rate below 5 percent. When counties hit this mark, Maryland health leaders say it is likely safe to return to schools for hybrid instruction.
Prince George’s County met this benchmark for the first time on Aug. 20. It remained under the 5-percent goal until Sept. 9. The local positivity rate topped out at 41.98 percent on May 2.
School officials still plan to keep classes online until at least January of 2021. Prince George’s County Public Schools will re-evaluate the local coronavirus situation throughout the fall with hopes of offering a hybrid option for the second semester, which starts on Jan. 28.
While Prince George’s meets the percent positive guideline, it does not meet the state’s new infections-per-capita marker. State health officials say jurisdictions should aim for less than five new coronavirus cases-per-day per 100,000 people. When an area hits this case rate goal, the state says it is probably safe to reopen the district’s schools for expanded in-person learning.
Prince George’s County’s case rate has been higher than Maryland’s since March 24. It hit an overall peak of 38.05 on May 7 before receding to its minimum of 7.57 by July 2.
A second surge spiked Prince George’s case rate to another peak of 19.04 on Aug. 4. Infections slowed by Aug. 31, dropping the case rate to 10.65.
Now, a third wave looks to be on the horizon, as the case rate has grown to 13.68. That’s nearly triple the requirement to return to expanded in-person instruction
The county must average less than 45.47 new coronavirus cases-per-day over a rolling week to meet the state’s per-capita suggestion. Prince George’s County has averaged 110.86 infections-per-day during the last seven reported days. The virus has killed 794 county residents.
Prince George’s coronavirus-related hospitalizations have plateaued as of late. The virus had 48 county residents in the hospital during the last recorded week. Hospitalizations hit a recent low of 45 in the week of July 5. Since then, they have fluctuated between 48 and 60.
Fewer than 69 coronavirus patients have been in the hospital at a time since the week of June 21. More than 240 people were hospitalized in Prince George’s County on the pandemic’s peak during the week of May 3.
“It is critically important that we not become complacent with COVID-19,” Alsobrooks said at a Sept. 3 press conference, announcing that the county would stay in Stage 2. “I know that we have dealt with this for a long time and so many of us are getting restless, but … I am urging all of you to please listen.”
When Prince George’s County permits, movie theaters and live entertainment venues can reopen at 50 percent capacity. These businesses will only be able to host 100 people for indoor events or 250 patrons for outdoor gatherings, however. Until then, they remain closed.
Retail stores and houses of worship will operate at a 75 percent capacity, whenever the county moves into phase 3. They are currently capped at half their usual crowd size.
“I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into stage 3 does not mean that this crisis is behind us,” Hogan said when he announced his Stage 3 plans. “We must remain vigilant so we can keep Maryland open for business.”
Marylanders are steadily returning to work as restrictions ease. Since peaking at 10.1 percent in April, the state’s unemployment rate has fallen each month.
Now,of the labor force is out of a job. In comparison, the unemployment rate was 3.3 percent in February, a month before coronavirus shutdowns began.
While Maryland still has a way to go before it reaches its pre-coronavirus economy, the state is still faring better than most of the country. The national unemployment rate sits at 8.4 percent, which is down from its recent high of 14.7 percent in April.
The overall unemployment stats are updated less frequently at the county level. The latest figures show that 50,098 people, or 9.5 percent of Prince George’s County workers, were without a job in July. That’s down 1.4 percent from the county’s pandemic-high, which it registered in May.
The number of new unemployment claims are updated each week, offering a more timely overview of county economies. The freshest report comes from the week ending on Sept. 12.
That week, Prince George’s County tallied 2,181 first-time unemployment insurance claims. The county’s worst stint came during the week of May 2, when it saw 15,488 new claims. In comparison, Prince George’s counted 259 first-time claims in the week of March 5, which was when Hogan declared a state of emergency in response to the state’s coronavirus outbreak.
“This has been devastating for so many of our businesses who have made sacrifices and seen losses,” Alsobrooks said at the conference, mentioning the 154,000 county residents who have lost their jobs during the pandemic. “We know that they are hurting.”
Alsobrooks added that the county has helped local businesses through its Economic Development Incentive Fund. The effort disbursed $20,190,000 to business owners, helping them pay their bills, compensate employees and buy personal protective equipment.
The county has awarded funding to 60 of the 670 applicants. More than half of the recipients have already received their grant.
Nearly 80 percent of the awardees are minority-owned. Women own 43 percent of the approved businesses, and veterans lead 5 percent of the operations.
Prince George’s County Health Officer Dr. Ernest Carter understands how desperate many local businesses are right now. He used to own a business himself.
Carter owned retail clinics in four states before moving into the public sector. He bought those stores in 2007, just before the 2008 recession. The economic downturn nearly crumbled Carter’s business, so he empathizes with the struggles of local entrepreneurs.
“I have lived through that: Having to lay people off, and telling people they no longer have insurance or they don’t have enough money for child care,” Carter said. “I’ve had that experience with over 90 employees that I’ve had. And I can tell you I do not, as the health officer, want our county to suffer through that.”
Maryland has added 156,000 jobs since recovery efforts began, said Kelly Schulz, the secretary for the state Department of Commerce. She attributes the economic revival to the $175 million in grants and loans that her department sent to thousands of local businesses.
Safety remains a top priority for Schulz, who said her team has met with 13 different industries to develop safe reopening guidelines. That partnership involved leaders from the tourism, manufacturing, retail, dining and attractions sectors, among others.
The group assembled a list of safety recommendations specific to each field. The suggestions include staggering employees’ shifts to minimize potential coronavirus exposure and placing signs and barriers to aid social distancing. These tips are available in Maryland’s Back to Business portal.
“We’ve helped them keep their doors open, pay their bills and keep their employees on their payrolls,” Schulz said of Maryland business owners. “We have stayed strong during this pandemic, and we will remain vigilant. We are, in fact, keeping Maryland open for business.”
Masks are still required in all public places in Maryland where social distancing is not possible. This includes all outdoor and indoor areas like town centers, shops and restaurants.
Hogan reminded residents to continue their coronavirus prevention measures, even around their relatives. People tend to feel safer around their family, but they must still take precautions, Hogan said.
Coronavirus seems to spread quickly at family events. Since the middle of July, 41 percent of coronavirus patients interviewed by contact tracers reported going to family gatherings.
“You think it’s maybe dangerous to go to a restaurant or a bar or some business,” Hogan said. “But in fact, the No. 1 thing reported is family gatherings.”
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