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AAC: Coronavirus spread rate rising, two-violation closure policy for business possible

Updated: Aug 12, 2020

Citing an increasing spread of coronavirus since community prohibitions were relaxed in mid-June, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Public Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman discussed policy changes. That could include giving business owners a fine on their first COVID-19 regulation violation, but shutting the business down at the second violation.

The video conference was live at 5:30 p.m., Monday July 20. A Facebook tally indicated the “Emergency Town Hall” had garnered 15,000 views by the next morning. The public presentation was also viewable on other platforms.

“We’ve really focused on enforcement being a collaboration process,” Kalyanaraman said. “But what we’re finding is that, while a good number of businesses are doing what they need to do, there’s also a lot who are not.”

The public health officer said that giving business owners more chances meant allowing the spread of the virus to continue. Kalyanaraman said he had consulted with both the Maryland School of Public Health and Johns Hopkins School of Public Health as well as other county public health officers. The consensus was that they were all “deeply concerned” about recent COVID-19 numbers.

Pittman acknowledged that the enforcement policy change was “was on the table”. COVID-19 policy changes may come by as soon as the end of the week, after more internal county discussion takes place.

“We’re loosing time on controlling the spread.” Kalyanaraman said.

Perhaps the most concerning number to the county officials was the one calculated as “rate of spread”. According to Pittman the rate of spread is the rate at which a person infected with the coronavirus infects other people. In months past that number has been below 1, but now it has grown beyond 1,

“When we have a rate of spread of one that means that for each infected person they’re approximately infecting one person, and then the infection rate stays about the same,” Pittman said.

For most of the month of June the rate of spread number was well below 1, according to the county executive.

“It was working,” he said. “We were winning.”

By the second week of July the rate of spread had grown to 1.21.

“The higher it is above 1 the quicker it spreads,” Kalyanaraman noted.

Overall cases of the coronavirus have also increased in the county. The public health officer acknowledged that there has also been more testing in the county. One way to tell if increased cases are due to increased testing or an increase in the virus is to examine the percentage of positive tests. That number has also grown too. the public health officer said.

According to Kalyanaraman positive tests were at 3.1 percent three weeks ago and now it is 4.7 percent.

“It’s been steadily growing,” he said. “We’re headed in the wrong direction and that’s a warning sign.”

He also mentioned there was an increasing number of cases of people who were in their teens through their thirties who were contracting the disease in the county.

Pittman noted that local hospitals have gone back to accepting patients for more procedures and are not currently as focused on COVID-19 care.

“We are likely to see a curve that will get us to the point where our hospitals are overwhelmed,” he said.

“The trend is pretty clear that it’s moving upwards,” Kalyanaraman said. “We’re going to have to make difficult choices in the coming days.”

The emergency presentation was expected to last about an hour, Pittman said at it’s beginning. It lasted 43 minutes, with several questions from the public being addressed by the officials. The questions were submitted electronically. A replay of the presentation may be seen here.