Maryland to remove child care capacity limits, allow indoor visitation at nursing homes

As coronavirus infections and deaths continue at a low, steady pace in Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday relaxed more pandemic-induced restrictions — and encouraged residents to prepare for the upcoming flu season.

Nursing homes that have limited visitors to outdoor meetings will now be able to offer indoor visits if the facility doesn’t have an outbreak or any new positive cases in the last 14 days, Hogan said. If the local jurisdiction’s positivity rate rises above 10%, no visitors will be allowed, as well.

And child care centers can increase the number of children they serve. Providers will now be able to operate at full capacity.

Since May, Hogan has gradually lifted restrictions so that almost all businesses are open in some fashion, though most must operate with capacity limits and follow health precautions. Masks continue to be required in indoor spaces and outdoors when social distancing is not possible.

The expansion of child care will likely come as a relief to both child care businesses that operate on tight margins and parents who have struggled to find quality care while public schools continue to operate remotely.

Child care centers have been limited to no more than 15 individuals per classroom since July — an increase over restrictions from earlier in the pandemic, but less than the pre-pandemic limits of up to 20 children per group for certain ages.

State schools superintendent Karen Salmon said health officials have seen few cases in child care centers, calling the operators “heroes” who go out of their way to keep children safe. But even as more providers reopened — 82% — demand remains high due to classroom restrictions.

Salmon said that hopefully this action will help crack down on the number of unlicensed child care centers that have opened up to facilitate the demand, which are not qualified to keep children safe.

The indoor visits at nursing homes could provide a crucial emotional lift for residents, as the weather turns colder and makes outdoor visits less comfortable. This will provide extra access and “compassion” to the most vulnerable in the state who need in-person interaction the most, Hogan said.

Hogan’s remarks came as the state reported no deaths from the coronavirus for the first time since late March — an “encouraging milestone” in the state’s ongoing effort, the governor said. He attributed Thursday’s count to the hard work of health care workers.

Still, more than 125,000 people in Maryland have tested positive and 3,805 have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. On Thursday, the state reported that 331 people were being treated in the hospital, including 74 in intensive care.

The state reported the positivity rate for the past seven days at 2.88%, while Johns Hopkins University, which uses a different method, puts Maryland’s seven-day positivity rate at 5.2%. Hogan says the state should be encouraged by the declining positivity rate.

And as the state continues to deal with the coronavirus, Hogan reminded Marylanders to be wary of the upcoming flu season.

Hogan posted photos on social media getting the flu vaccine at an Annapolis doctor’s office last month, and urged Maryland residents to follow suit.

If the flu season is severe at the same time that the pandemic rolls on, it could prove tricky for residents and medical professionals alike. The two illnesses come with many of the same symptoms and both have the potential to be deadly, especially for the elderly and those with other health conditions.

The state and the University of Maryland have been in discussions about transitioning a university lab to a test that would test for both flu and coronavirus at the same time.

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