Maryland reported its highest number of new COVID-19 cases on Tuesday—just four days after the state began easing public health restrictions aimed at thwarting the spread of disease.
Though state officials note that an increase in testing and a backlog of test results may partly explain the spike, the case counts overall suggest that disease transmission had not declined in the lead-up to re-opening—and transmission could very easily increase as residents begin venturing into public spaces more frequently.
Maryland’s outcome may hold lessons for other states attempting their own reopening. As of today, May 20, all 50 states have begun easing restrictions at some level, according to The Washington Post.
In Maryland, officials reported 1,784 newly confirmed COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. That figure surpasses the previous highest daily toll on May 1 of 1,730 new cases. Otherwise, the state’s other high daily tolls are around 1,200 new cases.
In the 24-hour period in which the spike was reported, the Old Line State also reported that 5,368 people had tested negative, according to NPR. That means that about 25 percent of tests from that time frame were positive for the disease.
Health experts generally consider a positive rate of 10 percent or less as a benchmark indicating that an area is performing enough testing and has a good handle on the state of an outbreak.
Despite the new cases and the fact that it is under a state of emergency, Maryland began reopening businesses last Friday. Retailers, churches, and hair salons were allowed to reopen at 50-percent capacity under a Safer at Home policy.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan made the decision given that hospitalizations and hospital bed occupancy were either stable or in decline, as NPR noted. He also said the state had the means to perform contact tracing for up to 1,000 cases per day—a figure that was significantly surpassed on Tuesday.
In total, Maryland has confirmed over 42,000 cases and over 2,000 deaths. Many of those are in a corridor stretching from Baltimore to Washington, DC. Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders Northwest DC, reported 533 of the state’s 1,784 new cases Tuesday, for instance.
The DC metro area in particular has had a hard time shaking the outbreak. Reuters reported Tuesday that a senior White House official said that the DC metro area—along with Chicago, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis—remains in an unexpected “plateau” of COVID-19 transmission.