Prince George's residents must stay-at-home through June 1 as coronavirus deaths and infections rise and the county struggles to do enough testing, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says the state as a whole is ready to take the first step towards reopening, but leaders in Prince George's, the county with the state's highest number of coronavirus cases, say that the county needs more time to slow the spread.
Nonessential businesses will remain closed and residents are ordered to stay home except for essential reasons, such as buying groceries, going to the emergency room and caring for a sick or elderly relative.
Restaurants can continue to provide delivery and curbside pick-up. Churches and other religious facilities must continue to hold virtual services.
The stay-home directive will remain in effect for at least two weeks later than Maryland's state-wide order required. Officials are looking for improved metrics on testing, hospitalizations and new infections.
Coronavirus Cases in DC, Maryland and Virginia
COVID-19 cases by population in D.C. and by county in Maryland and Virginia
"It's not impossible for us to see over the next couple of weeks the kind of declines and changes that we need to make it safe for us," Alsobrooks said, praising residents for complying with social distancing. "If they continue that, we believe we will be able to move safely into phase one."
An average of nine people die in the county every day from COVID-19, making it the leading cause of death in Prince George's right now, County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said. More than 10,000 residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus.
Alsobrooks says that administering enough coronavirus tests has been a struggle for the county and called on the state to get Prince George's more coronavirus tests.
Currently, about one-third of people tested in Prince George's are positive for coronavirus. Some experts say as few as 12% of tests should come back positive to ensure officials are catching people who don't show symptoms but can spread the disease.
The county faces a shortage of critical supplies including personal protective equipment, gowns, coronavirus tests and contact tracers. Alsobrooks called on the governor to answer her request for equipment.
Prince George's Health Department Health Officer Ernest L. Carter laid out some of the specific metrics that should be met before reopening. They include fewer than three deaths average per day, at least 30% of intensive care hospital beds ready for new patients and at least 9,000 coronavirus tests administered a week.
The county also needs workers who can track down people who were in close proximity to a confirmed coronavirus patient. About 135 contact tracers are wanted in addition to remote support from the University of Chicago supplied by the state, Carter said.
Prince George's County operates one free testing site but its tests are limited.
U.S. Congressman Anthony Brown, who represents part of Prince George's County in Maryland's 4th District, criticized some of the governor's moves on testing.
Hogan failed to deliver 90,000 tests that Alsobrooks requested for Prince George's County, Brown told News4's Tracee Wilkins.
Brown said that Hogan has not responded to concerns about how 500,000 tests bought from South Korea will be distributed. Hogan has said that officials are working to gather components for those tests, and they have helped expand testing capacity.
Brown said Thursday that the state received a large shipment of swabs and urged the governor to answer Prince George's county's plea for more tests.
Hogan didn't immediately return a request to respond to Brown's comments.
Meanwhile, residents have a new option for coronavirus testing: Patient First in Beltsville is testing mostly symptomatic patients, front line workers and people who need to get back to work.
Patient First requires an appointment. You don't need insurance, but tests cost $90 and there is also a lab fee.
Prince George's County officials are in line with leaders in Washington, D.C. and Northern Virginia in saying the capital region is unprepared to reopen as it faces climbing numbers of coronavirus infection and deaths.
Montgomery County, Maryland, officials are also expected on Thursday to announce extended restrictions.