Amid clear signs that COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations are increasing across Maryland, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) warned Thursday that the state is entering “a pivotal moment” in the fight against the virus. 

But he did not re-impose restrictions on business activity, travel or social gatherings. 

Instead, he implored residents to follow the established advice of public health professionals.

Speaking to reporters at the State House, in remarks carried on live television, Hogan used blunt language to shake precaution-weary Marylanders out of any complacency they may be feeling. 

Masks, he said, “are the single best mitigation strategy we have” for containing a virus that — as of Thursday — had killed 4,035 residents.

“It’s not that hard,” the governor said. “Just wear the damn masks.”

Hogan said Maryland’s positivity rate is lower than 42 other states — and it’s been below the CDC-recommended guideline of 5% for 133 consecutive days.

But he said the state has “entered the red zone” on another metric: Maryland now has 15 cases for every 100,000 residents, a 22% increase over last week. In addition, the 1,198 new cases reported on Thursday represented the highest single-day total since July 25. 

Eighteen Maryland counties now have case counts above 10 for every 100,000 people. 

“The warning lights are starting to flash on the dashboard,” Hogan said. “We cannot afford to let our guard down. … We should not and we cannot become complacent.” 

While he was not ordering any rollbacks on business activity or social interaction, Hogan — a businessman before entering politics — said would not hesitate to take any steps deemed necessary to protect public health and avoid a surge in cases that could overwhelm the state’s hospitals. 

The governor urged residents to:

* Wash hands frequently 

* Avoid travel to areas with high infection rates

* Avoid crowds

* Telework, if possible

* Exercise extreme caution with regard to holiday gatherings

Data gathered through the state’s contact tracing operation made clear that family get-togethers and “house parties” are the leading causes of infection, the governor said.

He urged local health departments and police to step up enforcement actions against businesses and individuals who flout state rules on masks and gatherings. And he said any jurisdiction that chooses a more cautious path on restaurants, stores and other business activity would have his “full support.” 

While he said it is “indisputable” that the nation has entered the third wave of infection, Hogan said Maryland has been preparing for just this moment for many months. He said the state has stockpiled equipment, opened field hospitals and streamlined credentialing for medical professionals in anticipation of a cold-weather spike. 

Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 Incident Commander for the University of Maryland Medical System, echoed Hogan’s warnings about the importance of individual actions.

“We are entering a period of high risk in these next few months, as the virus spreads more easily when we gather indoors together,” he said. “Recent data is concerning.” 

Marcozzi said it’s important that people seek medical care if they feel ill and take all medications prescribed by their physicians for non-COVID conditions, to keep their health up. 

His voice cracked and he had to pause his remarks as recalled the loss of a friend to suicide — a reminder of the importance of mental health and reaching out to one another, he said. 

Hogan said improvements in treatment methods and therapeutics were making hospital stays shorter and less severe, though he expressed concern that — while the rise in new cases is most prevalent among young adults — the increase in hospitalizations is hitting mostly seniors. 

“The straight truth is that this virus will be with us well into next year,” he said. “In fact, our worst time may be over the next couple of months.” 

While he did not mention President Trump by name, Hogan mocked a series of false claims about the virus that sounded like the president’s many discredited musings and Twitter posts — like how COVID-19 would be gone “by Easter,” July 4th or “the day after the election.” 

“The people that said that were dead wrong,” Hogan declared. “There is a lot of disinformation and misinformation and people that aren’t taking it seriously.” 

By Bruce DePuyt