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Maryland tightens COVID-19 restrictions amid massive case surge

Maryland tightens COVID-19 restrictions amid massive case surge
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New restrictions from Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) will limit the hours of bars and restaurants and reduce the capacity of retail stores across the state in an attempt to curb a massive statewide spike of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

Maryland on Tuesday reported 2,149 new coronavirus cases, the second-highest daily total since March. There have been 13 straight days with more than 1,000 cases, Hogan said, and the state's seven-day positivity rate is 6.85 percent.

"We are now seeing widespread community transmission in every corner of our state," Hogan said in a press conference Tuesday. "This is not the flu. This is not fake news. This is not just going to magically disappear. We are in a war right now and the virus is winning."

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Effective Friday at 5 p.m., bars and restaurants will be required to close indoor dining rooms at 10 p.m. 

Hogan said contact tracing has shown a large uptick in cases related to bars and restaurants, and there has been an increasing number of reports that compliance with the public health rules about no standing and keeping tables six feet apart drops after 10 p.m. because people have been drinking for a long time.

The new order brings Maryland in line with neighboring Virginia, as well as New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey and other states that have not shut down indoor dining, but instead limit the hours of operation.

Other measures announced Tuesday will bring retail and religious establishments back to 50 percent capacity, ban fans from college and professional sporting events, and essentially ban visitations at hospitals and nursing homes.

There are exceptions for "compassionate care" visits in nursing homes, and in hospitals for patients who are dying, giving birth, are minors or have disabilities.

Anyone who visits a nursing home will have to show proof of a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before the visit. Hogan said the state will require twice-weekly testing for nursing home staff and weekly tests for residents. 

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Hogan said hospitals are also being encouraged to avoid admitting patients for elective surgeries, especially if they'll require intensive care unless it is urgent or life-saving. 

"Our highest priority right now is preserving capacity at our hospitals so that our doctors and nurses can do their jobs and make sure people get the right critical, life-saving treatment," Hogan said. 

State health officials will also allow hospitals that are full or near capacity to transfer patients to other hospitals, in an attempt to make sure there's no surge on hospital beds. A similar order was in place in the spring, during the initial surge of COVID-19.

Hogan said hospitalizations also are seeing a dramatic increase, and many locations are close to capacity, even with the state's 6,000-bed surge plan. 

Hogan said there were more than 1,000 people hospitalized as of Tuesday for the first time since June 7. There has been a 100 percent increase in hospitalizations since Nov. 1.