ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — The state of Maryland and counties are struggling to keep up with contact tracing as the number of new COVID-19 cases continue to remain at a higher rate, officials say.
In Anne Arundel County, the county executive issued a new order allowing restaurants to maintain 25% indoor dining but now will require restaurants to collect contact tracing information from customers.
County Executive Steuart Pittman made the announcement Wednesday after the Titan Restaurant Group dismissed its lawsuit against the county following a two-day hearing. Pittman’s new order reversed a Dec. 10 order which closed all indoor dining in the county. However, indoor dining never closed in the county because a judge blocked the dining ban.
“The state’s contact tracing system was not designed to accommodate this many new cases each day, nor was the counties,” said Pittman.
“Our systems are not built to be able to handle this higher spread,” county health officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said. “And that’s why we look at more structural solutions to address spread; new restrictions for the number of business types and sectors.”
Kalyanaraman said collecting the information at the restaurant level will allow the county to enhance its contact tracing and see who may have been inside the restaurant and when a coronavirus case should be linked to a restaurant or to customers or staff there.
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“While there’s certainly [coronavirus] spread that can happen at a table, there’s also spread that happens across tables because you’re in your space with people with their masks off,” he said.
Baltimore City health officials said that week that they too were struggling to keep up with contact tracing as community spread continues in the city. In the city, they are struggling with getting residents to pick up calls from contact tracers.
“With the spike in new coronavirus cases coronavirus cases and with the widespread community transmission, it’s more important than ever, than ever that residents that are willing to answer their questions that we ask, including where you’ve been, and who you’ve been with,” said city health officer Letitia Dzirasa. “Your responses are extremely important in helping us stop the further spread of COVID-19.”
Despite the reversal, the county executive said he reserves the right to shut things down should there be another spike in cases after the Christmas holiday.