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Prince George’s County ready to start reopening Monday, with ability to test 9,000 a week

County Executive Angela Alsobrooks said Thursday that Prince George’s is ready to start the first phase of reopening on Monday after seeing a decline in deaths and building the capacity to test and trace patients.

She also announced the Prince George’s Forward Task Force, which will make policy recommendations on subjects including economic development, education, health, human services and government operations. Outgoing Prince George’s Community College President Charlene Dukes and William Von Hoene, Jr., Senior Executive Vice President and Chief Strategy Officer for Exelon Corporation, will co-chair the task force.

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“We know our charge: to speed our recovery and to protect our community,” Dukes said. “Recommendations will be undergirded by one fact, and all of its complexities: post COVID-19 will be different from pre-COVID-19."

Alsobrooks said the task force will make a final report, but they will implement their recommendations in real-time.

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“The goal is not to get back to where we were. The goal is to go faster and farther for our residents than we ever have before,” Alsobrooks said.

She said the task force will use data from the Maryland Transportation Institute to identify places where the county needs to take action to prevent a COVID cluster.

“In addition, MTI will provide us with daily statistics about the trends in mobility, social distancing and other useful health variables," Alsobrooks said. "MTI will also provide the task force valuable data visualizations of trips throughout the county, as well as helpful statistics on visit trends to different categories of businesses.”

Residents must continue to wear face masks inside stores and on public transportation, and stay 6 feet away from each other in public, but on June 1 the county’s stay-at-home order will be lifted, restaurants can open outdoor seating, and retail stores can offer curbside pick-up.

As of Thursday there have been 478 deaths related to the global pandemic in Prince George’s County, and 14,627 confirmed cases.

Health Officer Ernest Carter said the rate of death related to COVID-19 has declined for three weeks, from a peak of 74 deaths in the third week of April. Alsobrooks said about 60 people a week are still dying.

“The loss of life from this virus has been terrible and it is still a great concern for all of us,” Alsobrooks said. “I am grateful that we’re seeing some declines but we must continue again to be vigilant, because 60 is still too many.”

The county has also seen declines in hospitalizations, and has ramped up its ability to test and trace ahead of reopening.

An average of 181 patients at any time are hospitalized in Prince George’s because of COVID-19, Carter said, down from a peak of 244 patients between May 3-9. Carter said 40% of intensive care unit beds are available in the county, and 55% of medical/surgical beds are free, enough room to allow hospitals to care for anyone with any condition, Carter said.

Alsobrooks said between state and local test sites and private practices, the county now has the capacity to test 9,000 people a week, 1% of the county’s population. The state announced a new testing site at Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro that will open Friday and accept patients without symptoms or an appointment. Hours beyond 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Friday have not been announced.

By the end of next week the county will have 150 people trained to trace who a positive patient has come into contact with. Carter said the health department is notified when a patient tests positive, and “contact tracers” can then call that person to see who they may have spread the virus to.

“We make sure that we understand who they come in contact with,” Carter said. “We then notify those other contacts and tell them to self-quarantine for at least two weeks. That’s to make sure it doesn’t spread to others.”

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Alsobrooks said retail stores can reopen for curbside pick-up only, manufacturing can resume once employees are trained on Centers for Disease Control guidance, and barbershops and salons can open for hair services by appointment only, with one customer per 200 square feet.

Restaurants will be allowed to open for outdoor seating only, with a maximum of six people at a table, distance of 6 feet between tables, and a maximum of no more than 50 people total. Alsobrooks said they are adding a special portal to the county’s website to allow restaurants to apply for the appropriate licenses, expeditiously.

Former Gov. Martin O’Malley will be a part of the Prince George’s Forward Task Force, serving as chair of one of the task force’s five subcommittees, government operations.

The health subcommittee will be chaired by interim President and CEO of University of Maryland Capital Region Health Joseph Wright. The education subcommittee will be chaired by incoming University of Maryland College Park President Daryll Pines.

The human and social services subcommittee will be chaired by Rosie Allen-Herring, President and CEO of the United Way of the National Capital Area. Tom Graham of T.H. Graham & Associates will chair the economic development subcommittee.

“It is a somber time, it is a time that none of us would have predicted,” Dukes said. "We look forward to doing our part to change the trajectory of our community through the work of these fives subcommittees as we race to discover new solutions and new opportunities.”

Dukes is set to retire June 30 from the community college. The college’s board of trustees has decided to continue the search for a new president, while staying in compliance with the COVID-19 guidance, according to its website.

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