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Harford’s COVID-19 metrics improving over past few weeks as total coronavirus cases surpass 6,100 locally

Key coronavirus metrics in Harford County have improved after weeks of spiking, but are still above the baselines established by the World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would allow for fewer restrictions.

Confirmed cases of COVID-19 increased by more than 1,300 in Harford County over the past two weeks, with the Maryland Department of Health reporting 6,160 cases on Tuesday. At least 16 COVID-related deaths have been reported in the county during that same time span, bringing the total to 99 since the pandemic began in March.

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The county’s seven-day moving average case rate improved for the eighth-straight day, dropping to 31.43 cases per 100,000 people, according to state data released Tuesday morning. That rate had peaked Nov. 22, when it reached 47.26 cases per 100,000. Over the weekend, the county’s case rate measured below the state’s rate for the first time in nearly three weeks, a trend that continued Tuesday, when Maryland’s rate was 34.44 per 100,000.

Harford’s positivity rate ticked up slightly on Tuesday, however, to 7.51%, after 10 straight days of declines. Still, it is down more than 2 percentage points from 9.88% on Nov. 19, which had marked a six-month high. The positivity rate continues to trend above the statewide average of 7.33%, which went up for the fourth-straight day Tuesday.

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The WHO and the CDC recommend that a jurisdiction’s case rate be below 15 cases per 100,000 and that the positivity rate is below 5% before considering loosening restrictions.

Harford County Public Schools returned to an all-virtual learning model on Nov. 13, with the exception of a few students at connectivity hubs in portions of the county with poor or limited internet access. It’s Continuity of Learning plan does not allow for a return to any sort of in-person learning until those key metrics indicate a slowing of community transmission.

Superintendent Sean Bulson said last month that the rate of positive tests would need to be below 5% and the rate of new cases below 15 per 100,000 people for at least one week before HCPS officials could begin preparing to bring students back to the classroom, and then another week would need to elapse before students could return. That means a two-week period before students go back to school once the data turned around.

County government also closed its offices Nov. 13 amid the rising number of cases, and suspended outdoor sporting events and closed indoor parks and recreation facilities, mirroring restrictions put in place when the pandemic first took hold in the spring. Municipal governments in Aberdeen, Bel Air and Havre de Grace have taken similar steps regarding offices.

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Gov. Larry Hogan had imposed capacity restrictions on businesses and also ordered restaurants and bars to close at 10 p.m. to limit the spread. County Executive Barry Glassman said Harford would follow the governor’s orders, but did not impose any additional restrictions on county businesses or restaurants.

Glassman said on multiple occasions that he expects the county’s COVID numbers to rise and fall throughout the fall and winter, as research has shown colder weather has an impact on the virus’ spread.

The administration and the Harford County Health Department have continued to push a message of wearing a mask, social distancing and frequently and thoroughly washing hands to prevent the spread of the virus.

Last week, Upper Chesapeake Health, which in conjunction with the Health Department runs a testing site at its future medical campus off Route 22 in Aberdeen, announced it would expand testing hours, which began this week.

COVID-19 testing is now available from 8 a.m. to noon Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays, and from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays. Appointments are required to get tested and can be made at umuch.org/covidtesting.

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