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COVID-19 cases continue to rise as businesses reopen

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CENTREVILLE — On the eve of reopening retail businesses and manufacturing, Queen Anne’s County saw its positive COVID-19 cases rise again and posted the highest number of local residents hospitalized from the virus at one time to date with four. And cases have continued to rise throughout the week.

By the end of the day Wednesday, May 20, the county had 140 positive COVID-19 cases with four people in the hospital, said Beth Malasky, the county’s COIVD-19 public information officer. The county saw its first COVID-19 death on Friday and a second on Tuesday. Added to the deaths of local citizens residing in nearby nursing facilities, that brings the number of QA residents who have died of the virus to 11.

The regional test site at Chesapeake College tested 49 people Monday for the coronavirus, bring the total of tests done there to 1,126, Malasky said. Choice One Urgent Care offices in Denton and Easton recently started offering COVID-19 testing too.

The state coronavirus website updated nursing home cases Wednesday morning. Corsica Hill Center in Centreville is now showing five staff COVID-19 cases and two resident cases.

The state moved from a Stay at Home order to a Safer at Home public health advisory at 5 p.m. Friday, May 15.

“As we begin Stage One of our recovery, I want to assure every Marylander who may feel uneasy, and anyone who is concerned that we are moving either too quickly or too slowly, that each and every decision we make is both fact-based and science-based and made only after extensive consultation with our expert Coronavirus Recovery Team,” Gov. Larry Hogan said during his press conference May 13. “We are continually monitoring this crisis, we remain focused on the clusters, outbreaks and hotspots, and I can assure you that we remain ready to quickly and decisively respond to any changes in the facts on the ground, and that we will continue to attack this virus with every single tool at our disposal.”

At 5 p.m. Friday, retail businesses were allowed reopen at 50 percent capacity with physical distancing, masks and other safety precautions. Among businesses that may reopen are clothing and shoe stores, pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, car washes, art galleries and bookstores.

Enclosed malls remain closed, but shopping centers were allowed open. Queenstown Premium Outlets center sent email to customers announcing its reopening Saturday at 11 a.m.

Hair salons and barbershops could reopen at 50 percent capacity and by appointment only. Tanning salons, massage parlors and tattoo parlors remain closed.

Manufacturing businesses, like PRS Guitars and Reeb Millwork, were allowed to reopen with appropriate safeguards in place.

Queen Anne’s Health Officer Dr. Joseph Ciotola Jr. issued guidelines May 14 for the reopening of retail establishments including distributing copies of a “Best Practices for Businesses to Reopen” poster and a screening tool for employee health.

The Emergency Operations Center has been working with Heather Tinelli, the county’s economic development director, and Linda Friday, president of the Queen Anne’s County Chamber of Commerce, to get word to affected businesses. All businesses opening are being asked to sign a “Back to Business Pledge” to show their commitment to the safety and health of employees and customers. The pledge promises routine cleaning and disinfecting, social distancing and promoting hand washing, among other precautions.

“We trust our businesses to make the best decisions if we give them the best possible tools and resources to be successful,” said Eric Johnson, EOC planning section chief, in a phone interview Thursday evening.

Face coverings continue to be required for both employees and customers inside retail businesses.

Restaurants remain carry-out or delivery orders only, although local politicians have been pushing to reopen at least outdoor dining. The District 36 representatives sent a letter to the governor, and the county commissioners have publicly stated their support.

Child care centers are only open to children of essential workers, and schools continue with distance learning efforts with in-person instruction suspended through the end of the academic year.

County Administrator Todd Mohn said the county would be bringing most of its employees back to work this past Monday. No decision has been made on reopening county buildings. Gatherings are still prohibited for more than 10 people.

The governor’s “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” allows county leaders to make decisions on the timing of Stage One reopening in their local jurisdictions.

One area where Queen Anne’s County differs from the state is on playgrounds, Mohn said.

While parks and trails have been and continue to be open for passive recreation, such as bird watching, walking, jogging and biking, county playgrounds will remain closed at this time, Mohn said.

Face coverings are not required outdoors; people do not need to wear a mask to walk on the trail, for instance. However, they are recommended for situations involving face-to-face interaction, such as farmers markets, if social distancing is difficult or not possible.

Mohn said officials realize the number of positive virus cases will rise with increased testing and the reopening of businesses, but the numbers have been kept low enough for the hospitals to handle them.

“Everybody just has to be responsible,” he said. “People just need to be aware and follow safety guidelines.”

According to the governor’s advisory, “Marylanders, particularly older and more vulnerable Marylanders, are strongly advised to continue staying home as much as possible. Employers should continue to encourage telework for their employees when possible. Individuals who can work from home should continue to do so.

“Maryland citizens should continue wearing masks in indoor public areas, retail stores, and on public transportation. Additionally, Marylanders should continue practicing physical distancing, continue avoiding gatherings of more than 10 people, keep washing their hands often, and frequently sanitize high-touch areas.”

Under the Safer at Home guidelines, worship services are allowed in buildings at 50 percent capacity with social distancing, masking and other safety protocols advised; outdoor services are encouraged as alternatives. Individual denominations will look to their leaders for additional guidance.

Bishop Francis Malooly of the Catholic Diocese of Wilmington has announced the general dispensation from the Sunday Mass obligation will remain in place and livestream Mass will continue. In time, each parish will be asked to develop a plan based on Centers for Disease Control guidelines and local circumstances.

Bishop Peggy Johnson of the Delmarva Peninsula Conference of the United Methodist Church Thursday issued some minimum guidelines for safe practices, including:

• High risk individuals should continue to shelter in place until they feel it is safe to return.

• Continue all online and alternative worship opportunities.

• Ask congregants to bring masks and sanitizer from home, and provide masks and sanitizing stations for those who do not have their own.

• Remove pew hymnals, Bibles, pencils, attendance pads, welcome cards, etc. and rely upon audio visual, verbal instructions, or if you must have bulletins have one person with gloves distribute printed bulletins.

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