Maryland’s Prince George’s County is among nation’s wealthiest Black communities, but it leads state in coronavirus cases.
While many states across the country have had to tighten coronavirus restrictions again due to outbreaks after early efforts to reopen, Maryland has continued to see its metrics stay flat or trend downward.
On Thursday, the state met a key threshold: two straight weeks of a seven-day average positivity rate below 5%, which the World Health Organization recommends reaching before loosening coronavirus-related restrictions.
The state’s peak seven-day average positivity rate, in mid-April, was 26.92%. On Thursday, the state reported a rate of 4.53%.
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.
Maryland firms receive more than $10 billion in federal aid
Since the $521 billion paycheck protection program was launched to curtail job losses in the midst of the pandemic, nearly 5 million loans have been awarded, federal officials reported this week — 81,315 to Maryland businesses and nonprofit organizations.
Federal officials also released data tracking how many jobs have been bolstered by the program. In Maryland, about 900,000 have been supported by the loans, and about 75% of the state’s small business payroll, according to federal data.
In Maryland, 86 businesses and nonprofits received loans in the $5 million to $10 million range. Among those were numerous health care companies, as well as financial, legal and other professional firms. Some of the notable businesses receiving loans include McDonogh School in Owings Mills (between $5 million and $10 million); the Archdiocese of Baltimore (between $2 million and $5 million); and Hogan Companies, a real estate group founded by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan (between $150,000 and $350,000)
Many of Maryland’s elite private schools collected some of the biggest loans offered by the program. Nearly 200 schools in the state have received loans, about a third of which received $1 million or more. In Central Maryland, nearly all of the schools with the largest endowments accepted Paycheck Protection Program funding.
Overall, full-service restaurants represented the industry that received the most most loans, both in number and amount received.
Despite safety concerns from state and local election officials, Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday ordered them to run a regular, in-person election with each of the state’s roughly 2,000 precincts open on Election Day.
Hogan also ordered the State Board of Elections in a letter to mail each voter an application for an absentee ballot for anyone who feels unsafe voting in person because of the coronavirus.
Hogan, a Republican, said his decision would resolve problems seen in the June 2 primary, which was held mostly by mail.
“We’re very frustrated with the way the election was handled in the primary by the State Board of Elections and the [Baltimore] city board of elections,” Hogan said. “Mistakes were definitely made, and it was unacceptable and inexcusable that they screwed up so much with respect to getting the ballots out on time and getting them out to everybody.”
Amy Cruice of the ACLU of Maryland said despite the hiccups with some ballots arriving late or having errors, the primary was a success in terms of voter participation. Turnout was high, with 97% of those who voted doing so via the mailed ballots, she said.
“We will lose all of the gains we made in the June primary, in terms of being able to give people a safe and accessible way to vote,” said Cruice, who runs the ACLU’s election protection program in Maryland.
Hogan rejected the suggestions from the state elections board, as well as local elections officials. While the board was divided along party lines whether the state should send absentee ballot applications (the option Republican appointees favored) or just mail out ballots without waiting for requests (which had the support of the board’s Democrats), members agreed it could not execute a “traditional” election with each of the state’s approximately 2,000 precincts open.
The appointed Maryland State Board of Elections issued a brief statement saying it will follow Hogan’s orders.
Local school districts propose reopening plans
Some public school districts in Central Maryland began to publicly discuss in earnest this week possible options for what school might look like in the fall.
The Baltimore City school district has proposed relaxing social distancing in schools to as little as 4 feet and requiring face masks for all staff and students when buildings reopen, according to a presentation to staff this week.
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines call for schools to maintain 6 feet of distance between desks or chairs when feasible. District leaders said they were proposing “relaxing physical distancing to 4-6 feet to accommodate a greater number of students in-person in school buildings.”
Masks would be required, and desk shields and dividers — like the ones used at the checkout line in some grocery stores — would be used for students “who may have more difficulty wearing or keeping a mask on during the school day,” such as younger children and those in special education.
The proposals have raised concerns among school employees, including Baltimore Teachers Union President Diamonté Brown, who said they “should be way more heavily focused on protecting human life, not figuring out how we can get students in school buildings with relaxed social distancing.”
In Howard County, the board has voted to push back the start of the school year by two weeks. Officials are considering various reopening options, including starting the school year online and transitioning into a hybrid model, and offering a fully digital curriculum for students and staff who wish to opt in.
Harford County schools have laid out three possible scenarios: all distance learning, a mix of on-site and remote classes, and all in person. Officials said the decision will be dependent on the severity of the pandemic at the time.
New federal rule creates uncertainty for international students who won’t attend in-person classes
The Trump administration this week released new guidelines for international students in the U.S., requiring that students taking exclusively online courses at U.S. institutions this fall — a likely scenario for many, as schools develop their reopening plans — will have to return to their home countries.
The decision, which reversed the policies regarding online coursework that had been in place for the spring and summer semesters due to COVID-19, has left students and schools scrambling for solutions, and answers.
According to the new federal rule, international students must take “the minimum number of online classes,” but it remains unclear exactly how many classes must be in-person for a student to stay in the country. Many Maryland universities have insinuated they will offer special in-person coursework for international students to keep them in the country.
The policy has been challenged in federal court by Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
The county has had a disproportionate amount of the state’s coronavirus deaths, too. More than 650 residents have died of COVID-19, a fifth of the state’s total deaths and second only to more populous Montgomery County.
Taken as a whole, experts say, the county’s experience reflects the persistence of racial inequities that have left African Americans and other minorities more vulnerable to the virus. Even in higher income and educational brackets, researchers are increasingly finding that racial disparities, such as doctors not taking a Black patient’s symptoms as seriously, take a toll on health.
“Look at all of the inequities that African Americans face in jobs, in housing, in education, in the criminal justice system, as well as in health care,” said Deneen Richmond, an administrator at Luminis Health, which operates Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham.
Baltimore Sun Media reporters Emily Opilo, Lorraine Mirabella, Pamela Wood, Alison Knezevich, Christine Condon, Daniel Oyefusi, Jean Marbella, Naomi Harris, Jacob Calvin Meyer and David Anderson contributed to this article.