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Coronavirus in Maryland: Five takeaways from the week

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announces a further relaxation of restrictions that were put into place to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

Gov. Larry Hogan laid out a timeline to lift more coronavirus-related restrictions, drawing concerns from one of his top medical advisers, as Maryland surpassed 60,000 cases this week.

The number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has continued to decline. Meanwhile, the number of Marylanders applying for unemployment insurance applicants grew from the previous week.

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To keep Marylanders up to date with the week’s most pressing takeaways, here are five key points from The Baltimore Sun’s coronavirus coverage.

Restrictions on indoor dining, gyms, casinos, malls to be lifted

Gov. Larry Hogan pushed to further reopen Maryland from coronavirus pandemic-related shutdowns Wednesday, laying out a timeline for indoor dining, outdoor amusements, indoor gyms, casinos and malls to resume operations with restrictions over the next couple of weeks.

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With local approval, the following activities will be allowed in Maryland starting at 5 p.m. Friday:

  • Indoor dining at restaurants, limited to 50% capacity, with tables at least six feet apart and other public health protective measures.
  • Outdoor amusements, such as miniature golf and go-kart tracks, limited to 50% capacity and with other public health protective measures.

With local approval, the following activities will be allowed in Maryland starting at 5 p.m. June 19:

  • Indoor fitness centers, gyms, martial arts, dance and other studio-type activities, limited to 50% capacity and with other public health protective measures.
  • Casinos, arcades and malls can reopen with public health protective measures.

Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties will align with state guidelines. Baltimore City haven’t officially said if it will lift any of the new restrictions, but in general has moved slower to reopen than the rest of the region.

Hogan, a Republican, said the looser restrictions will be safe only if people continue to wear masks and practice social distancing.

“The fight against this virus is far from over,” Hogan said during a State House news conference.

Maryland vastly underreports nursing home cases, deaths

Maryland is significantly underreporting total counts of coronavirus cases and deaths at nursing homes and other elder care facilities, an analysis by The Baltimore Sun found this week.

The state has been posting data on a public online dashboard that lawmakers, advocates and families assumed to be cumulative. However, it was actually only showing snapshots in time. Hundreds of cases and casualties are missing from the latest totals released Wednesday, The Sun’s analysis found.

While a state coronavirus website shows 1,359 people have died as a result of “active” coronavirus outbreaks at such facilities, a Sun review of six weeks of state data found that closer to 1,750 resident and staff deaths have been reported since the pandemic reached the state. That means the pandemic’s toll on the state’s nursing homes is likely even worse than originally thought, with the facilities accounting for nearly two-thirds of all coronavirus deaths in the state.

Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 reported infections are missing from the state’s current count of cases among elderly residents and their caregivers. The figure was about 9,600 as of Wednesday, about 300 fewer than a week earlier.

The data discrepancy alarmed some advocates, who said the confusion makes it more difficult to appropriately fight the virus.

“How are we really going to address this problem if we don’t know the extent of it?” said Anna Palmisano, director of Marylanders for Patient Rights.

Hopkins infectious disease expert raises concerns about reopening

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a top health adviser to the governor, pushed back on Hogan’s decision to open the state’s restaurants, gyms and malls, saying the moves allowing indoor gatherings could erase progress on containing coronavirus cases.

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In a thread of tweets, Inglesby said said he agreed with the public health messages Hogan made at a Wednesday news conference, but not all of the following steps.

Inglesby reiterated the comments from Hogan and Fran Phillips, the state’s deputy health secretary, that the “fight against the virus is not over” and “all of us have to exercise personal responsibility.”

“But I don’t agree we should end limits on indoor large gatherings,” he said. “We shouldn’t restart conventions. There’ve been outbreaks of COVID in indoor restaurants and bars, so they will also be higher risk. Casinos will also pose new risks unless major mitigation efforts made. Group gatherings are situations where this virus has great capacity to spread widely.”

Outbreak at city waste yard leads to recycling stoppage

A coronavirus outbreak among staff at Baltimore’s east side solid waste yard prompted city officials to declare an immediate halt of curbside recycling pickup for three weeks.

Matthew Garbark, acting director of the Department of Public Works, said effective Wednesday all operations from the facility will be suspended so employees can stay home and self-isolate. Fifteen sanitation workers have tested positive for the virus, including seven at the east side location. Twenty will be isolating at home.

Trash collection is expected to continue uninterrupted, although John Chalmers, head of the city’s Bureau of Solid Waste, said residents may see some delays to their usual pickup schedules.

“We ask you to be patient,” Chalmers told the council, explaining that the crews may be working in areas or jobs they are unfamiliar with.

Residents can drop off recycling at three locations while pickup is paused: the Sisson Street Citizen Drop-Off Center at 2840 Sisson St.; the Northwest Transfer Station at 5030 Reisterstown Road; and the Quarantine Road Landfill at 6100 Quarantine Road.

Pandemic closes landmark institutions for good.

As the state inches closer to reopening, many local institutions, restaurants, stores and other businesses are acknowledging they will never be able to reopen due to the months-long shutdown measures ordered to curtail the spread of the coronavirus.

For businesses large and small, the revenue loss from the months-long closure of nonessential businesses is simply too much to overcome.

In the Baltimore area, several longstanding, prominent institutions will remain permanently closed, including restaurants like City Cafe and boutiques like Ma Petite Shoe.

Two historic schools also decided to make temporary closures permanent. The Wilkes School at Grace and St. Peter’s Church is shutting its doors after 75 years, and The Institute of Notre Dame, the alma amter of officials like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and former U.S. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, is closing after 170.

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Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood, McKenna Oxenden, Scott Dance, Kalani Gordon, Jean Marbella, Lorraine Mirabella, Liz Bowie, Nathan Ruiz, Mary Grace Keller, Olivia Sanchez, Ana Faguy, Yvonne Wenger and Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

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