Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan warned of a major surge in coronavirus cases and urged residents Thursday to wear masks to prevent the virus's spread.
“Maryland just entered the red zone for cases,” Hogan said. “Our average cases for 100,000 has risen to 15, which is a 22% increase in just the last week.”
Maryland’s statewide mask mandate remains in full effect, the Republican governor said during a news conference. Under this order, all Marylanders over the age of 5 are required to wear face coverings in the public spaces of all businesses across the state.
“It is the best way to keep you and your family members safe, keep people out of the hospital, save lives and to keep Maryland open for business," Hogan said. "I mean, it's that simple. It's not that hard. Just wear the damn masks.
“We’re concerned about increasing recent reports of individuals and businesses becoming more lax and not following the law,” Hogan said.
Hogan also said he didn't believe new restrictions were needed on businesses, but he warned against complacency toward current rules now in place.
“I think right now, enforcing the existing laws that people aren't following is more important than adding new ones,” he said.
While the governor said Maryland is in a much better position than in the spring and that the state is better prepared than most states, “the warning lights are starting to flash on the dashboard.”
“The straight truth is that this virus will be with us well into next year, and in fact our worst time may be over the next couple of months,” Hogan said.
Dr. David Marcozzi, the COVID-19 incident commander for the University of Maryland Medical System, said the state is “entering a period of high risk” in the next few months, because the virus spreads more easily when people gather indoors together. He said there has been a noticeable increase in the state's positivity rate and the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations.
He choked up as he talked about the recent loss of a friend to suicide and stressed the pandemic’s physical and mental toll.
“I'm tired of COVID-19. I think we're all tired of COVID-19, but the virus isn't tired," Marcozzi said. "It is waiting. That is a reality, and these next few months will require us to double our efforts and stay the course.”
Hogan said the state has built a long-term testing strategy and a robust contact tracing operation. Maryland’s contract tracing operation is almost 1,400 tracers strong, the governor added, and the state has kept this operation at full strength to find patterns and identify where and how the virus is spreading.
The governor also said Maryland has kept in place a hospital surge capacity plan of more than 6,000 beds and continues to keep alternate care sites open, including the Baltimore Convention Center Field Hospital. Emergency management officials have distributed more than 78 million units of personal protective equipment and have built up a 60-day supply of the most critical resources, he added.
The most common activity of those who have become infected with the coronavirus continues to be family gatherings, followed by house parties, according to a news release from the governor's office. Of all interviewed cases, 56% indicated that in the two weeks prior to contracting the virus, they had traveled outside Maryland, worked outside the home, attended a gathering with at least 10 people or visited a high-risk location.
Hogan urged people to refrain from large holiday gatherings.
The governor also emphasized a travel advisory. Marylanders returning from a visit to a state with a higher than 10% positivity rate must get a coronavirus test and quarantine until they get the results.
Maryland has seen a rise in COVID-19 cases and reported 1,198 new cases in a 24-hour period Thursday morning. It was the second straight day the state reported more than 1,000 cases.
The state health department has reported more than 149,000 virus cases since the pandemic began. The state also reported 10 more virus-related deaths on Thursday, bringing the death toll to at least 4,035. Maryland reported 588 current COVID-19 hospitalizations on Thursday.
New confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S. have climbed to an all-time high. Cases and hospitalizations are setting records all around the country. Daily new confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. have surged 45% over the past two weeks, to a record seven-day average of 86,352, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
Follow AP coverage of the pandemic at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak.