Nineteen cases of novel coronavirus have so-far been confirmed in Prince George’s County as of March 17, 2020, said Prince George’s County officials in a Tuesday evening conference call. Most of the infected are under quarantine in their homes. One is hospitalized, but is stable.
As the outbreak spreads in Prince George’s health officials said during the conference call that residents need to practice “social distancing” to the greatest extent possible for the time being.
“We have to hunker down,” said Dr. Ernest Carter, chief health officer for Prince George’s County.
Carter emphasized older residents are more vulnerable to severe cases of coronavirus than others. He encouraged senior citizens to plan ahead, develop a contact list, make sure they have an extended supply of medication and food, designate a caregiver, and make sure the caregiver also limits their exposure to the public, among other guidance.
“They need to have enough medicine and they need to have enough food,” said Carter.
Prince George’s County officials say they hope “pop-up” or drive-through testing sites would be launched in the county by weeks end. However, they made it clear that these pop-up facilities would, at least initially, be limited in number. The tests would also continue to be available only to individuals who have a prescription from a doctor to receive such a test.
“There is increased testing, but there haven’t been a lot of test kits out there,” said Carter during the call.
In other words, health officials are trying to save the limited number of tests they have for patients experiencing severe symptoms of the disease. To dramatically expand testing to those with more minor symptoms right now would exhaust the limited number of tests available to county health officials.
According to County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, a pop-up food bank program launched Tuesday by the Capital Area Food Bank delivered meals to 600 families in just 35 minutes at several sites across Prince George’s County. The food bank is expected to re-deploy the pop-up pantries across Prince George’s County again Saturday, March 21, 2020.
Monica Goldson, CEO of the Prince George’s County Public School System said the county’s grab-and-go school meals program distributed 596 “meals” at 11 middle-schools across the county on the first day of the school system’s pandemic shutdown. Tuesday, school officials had expanded distribution sites to 25 schools across the county, delivering 2,620 meals that day. Goldson said the county wants to add more grab-and-go meal sites by Thursday, March 19, 2020 and are exploring their options. Goldson said an announcement of additional grab-and-go school lunch sites is expected Wednesday, March 18, 2020.
Additionally, Riverdale Park officials announced a pop-up-produce pantry from Christian Life Church at 5600 Taylor Road in Riverdale Park. Fresh vegetables will be available for pickup from 1-3 p.m. this Friday, March 20, 2020.
Metro officials strongly encouraged residents to stay home. On March 17, Metro announced further reductions in service to Sunday levels, with rail operating hours of 5 a.m. to 11 p.m. weekdays and 8 a.m. to 11 p.m. Saturdays, 15-minute headways. Bus drivers have been given the authority to bypass bus stops to maintain safe social distancing within the bus. The full announcement is here.
Driving the point home, Metro released the public service announcement below:
Maryland highway officials announced all toll facilities would end cash collection and shift to electronic or pay-by-mail tolling.
Mixed messages on malls
The mall at Prince George’s announced March 17, 2020, it was limiting its operating hours from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Saturday, and noon to 6 p.m. on Sunday.
Beltway Plaza announced March 16, 2020 it was limiting its operating hours to 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 12 p.m. to 6 p.m. Sunday.
The move sparked a small debate among Route 1 Reporter readers. Should these indoor malls be open at all? Gov. Larry Hogan’s amended executive order prohibiting public gatherings does not require the closure of shopping malls. Still, Howard County officials closed all malls March 16. Earlier March 17, 2020, New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy ordered all of the state’s indoor malls to close until further notice.
Prince George’s municipalities begin declaring emergencies
Several Prince George’s County cities and towns have either already declared, or are preparing to declare, local emergencies. An emergency declaration from a jurisdiction is often needed to receive disaster relief funds from government agencies and nonprofits. Berwyn Heights, Laurel, Bowie and Greenbelt are among local cities that have so far taken this step.
Mount Rainier adjusts telework policy
Prince George’s County State’s Attorney Aisha Braveboy detailed steps her office is taking to limit the spread of coronavirus in county jails and prisons. Braveboy said in a press release the county is considering the release of non-violent offenders and prisoners with little time left on their sentences.
A person tried to gain entry to a home in Bowie by saying he was “checking for the COVID-19 virus,” according to Bowie Police Department.
The incident occurred March 17, 2020, in the 1400 block of Pennypacker Lane at around noon. According to police, a man knocked on the door of a house on the block wearing a black hooded sweatshirt, an organge vest and a blue surgical mask and claimed to be inspecting for coronavirus. The resident did not allow the person in their home.
Primary election rescheduled
Gov. Larry Hogan rescheduled Maryland’s primary election from April 28 to June 2.