BALTIMORE (WJZ) — December will be one of the “deadliest” months for COVID since the pandemic began, Baltimore health officials warned Wednesday during a press conference with the city’s new mayor Brandon Scott.

“If previous trends continue, we expect December to be one of the deadliest since the pandemic began,” said the city’s Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa.

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Despite city officials’ best efforts to urge people not to travel or gather for the Thanksgiving holiday, Dzirasa said many did, and the city saw an increase in testing the last week of November.

“I would expect to see continued increase in new cases due to COVID exposure during travel sometime over the next few days at a time when our hospitals are already at 85% of their maximum capacity,” she added.

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Even contact tracers are “challenged” as they try to keep up with the number of new cases identified each day. Contract tracing is used to determine where and when people may have been exposed to coronavirus and help health officials identify a cause or a super spreader event.

As a result of contact tracing, Dzirasa said they know there is widespread community transmission in Baltimore City — meaning COVID-19 is found throughout the community and can be spread by people who appear to be well.

Up to 50% of coronavirus cases in Baltimore City are spread by someone without any symptoms, she said.

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“We also know that some of the drivers of COVID-19 spread are activities which bring groups of people together for prolonged periods of time, an inability or lack of mask wearing or social distancing and indoor spaces specifically those with poor ventilation,” Dzirasa said.

Scott announced Wednesday a new order that would close several businesses and restrict capacity even more in others. He also closed both indoor and outdoor dining at restaurants.

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“To slow the exponential spread of COVID-19, our interventions aimed to decrease the number of contacts individuals have during their infectious period, targeting our interventions to the highest risk activities will help provide the biggest reduction at high risk contacts,” Dzirasa said.

This worked in the summer when more restrictions in August helped to control a spike in cases in July, city officials said.

“Armed with that information, to do nothing would be the same as conceding defeat to the coronavirus,” she said. “The increased restrictions for Baltimore City are designed to help reduce the burden on our healthcare system and to curb the rising number of new cases. We have not had to implement such severe restrictions since the earliest days of the pandemic and implementation of the stay at home order.”

City officials again urged residents not to travel for the holidays, continue to wear masks and social distance.

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For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

CBS Baltimore Staff