Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks extended the county’s stay-at-home order to June 1 at a Thursday press conference, citing insufficient resources and test capacity.
The extension comes one day after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans to reopen the state Friday.
Although the county has seen a recent decline in the number of people admitted to hospitals with COVID-19 symptoms over the past several days, Alsobrooks stressed that the county was still very much in the thick of the pandemic. As of Thursday afternoon, more than 10,400 county residents had tested positive for the virus, and the county continues to see an average of nine deaths per day, Alsobrooks said.
“Right now, the science tells us that if we open our doors at this moment, not only will we lose additional money, but we are going to lose more Prince Georgians,” she said. “I have a duty to make sure that we are not only protecting livelihoods, but we also have to protect your life.”
In order for the county to reopen safely, Alsobrooks said the county needs to see a two-week decline in confirmed cases, hospitalizations and coronavirus-related deaths. Remaining under a stay-at-home order until June 1 will allow the county to reassess these metrics after the 14-day window passes, Alsobrooks said.
But as of now, the county does not have the contact tracers, the personal protective equipment or the testing capacity to meet this threshold, she said.
Currently, about one in three individuals tested for the virus in the county test positive, she said. But, since Prince George’s County generally only tests those who are exhibiting symptoms, there are likely a “good number of asymptomatic individuals walking around our communities everyday,” she said.
And although Alsobrooks said the county has been doing what it can to secure its own resources, she said officials are nearing the limit of what they’re able to acquire outside of Maryland. For the county to be able to lift its stay-at-home order, she stressed that the state government needs to “do its part.”
“Just like it’s the federal government’s responsibility to make sure the state has the resources it needs … it is the state’s responsibility to make sure that all of the jurisdictions likewise have the resources that we need to be able to move on and open our jurisdictions safely,” she said.
At the press conference, U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown urged Hogan to quickly deploy the shipment of swabs and extraction kits the state received Wednesday from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to Prince George’s County. He added that the House of Representatives would be meeting Friday to pass the HEROES Act, which would provide state and local governments with $1 trillion in aid and help with testing.
County health officer Ernest Carter said the county is currently testing about 5,500 residents per week. To reopen, he said, the county would have to test about 9,000 residents per week. And at least 30 percent of county intensive care unit beds will need to be available, he said, in case hospitalizations surge after the stay-at-home order is lifted.
But while the county is seeing some encouraging signs, he emphasized that it isn’t out of the woods yet. He called for residents to continue wearing face coverings and practicing social distancing.
“As our health department stays on the data and pushes for more test kits, we need all of you to stay the course, because without that, we’ll go backwards and that’s just something we can’t afford,” he said.
Alsobrooks acknowledged the extended stay-at-home order would hurt the county’s small businesses. It would hurt churches, too, she said, as the very nature of religious institutions is to allow people to gather together in prayer. However, as much as she said she misses worshipping and paying visits to her family, she stressed that it is not currently safe to reopen.
The virus, Alsobrooks said, has taken an “unimaginable toll” on the county community. Just this week, she said, she lost a colleague in the county’s health department to COVID-19. However, the coronavirus will not have the final say in the county, she said. Together, they would come together to reimagine a new normal for their community, rebuild their businesses and nurture their family members back to health.
“Hang in there,” she said. “Morning is coming.”