@BryanRenbaum

The number of positive coronavirus cases in Maryland has dropped to 5.81 percent and the number of COVID-related hospitalizations in the state are at their lowest level since April 5, according to data released by the Department of Health on Wednesday.

The figures are based on a seven-day rolling average. They show a more than 78% reduction in the positivity rate since the virus reached its peak on April 17 and mark the second consecutive day that the state’s positivity rate is below 5 percent. The positivity rate is currently at 4.46 percent.

Maryland has conducted a total of 526,882 COVID tests. That includes 15,594 tests that were conducted over the past 24 hours. The total number of COVID hospitalizations is at 702. That marks a 45 percent reduction rate since Memorial Day.

More COVID tests have been performed in Baltimore City than in any other of the state’s 24 jurisdictions. More than eight percent of the city’s population has been tested, compared with 7.3 percent for that of the entire state. Baltimore’s positivity rate has declined by 35 percent since the beginning of June. The city is still in Stage 1 of the recovery process.

Maryland has setup more than 150 COVID testing centers throughout the state. At many of the centers patients do not need to make an appointment nor display symptoms of the virus in order to be tested. On Wednesday the state opened up a new testing center at the Baltimore Convention Center. Testing at location will be available from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Wednesdays and Fridays. A doctor’s referral is not required in order to be tested there.

There are 62,969 confirmed cases of COVID in Maryland as Wednesday morning, and 2,866 people in the state have died from the virus.

Meanwhile, restrictions aimed at preventing the spread of the virus have taken their toll on both Maryland’s and the nation’s economy. And even though Maryland and other states have begun lifting some of the restrictions, it is too late for many small businesses.

Comptroller Peter Franchot made light of that fact at Wednesday’s Board of Public Works meeting.

“Nationally the studies are showing that 22 percent of all small businesses are going to be closed permanently because of the pandemic health restrictions.”

Franchot, who cited a recent Brookings Institution study, said the situation is even worse for minority-owned small businesses.

“Within that 22 percent, it is estimated that 41 percent of all minority-owned small businesses…are not going to reopen.”

Franchot framed the conversation within the broader of context of nationwide protests against police misconduct that have come in aftermath of the Minneapolis police killing of 46-year-old African-American George Floyd. The Comptroller said economic inequality is a key part of that conversation.

“We’re looking at the deep roots of social injustice and policing practices. But we also need to enact policies that will achieve economic empowerment.”

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford echoed similar sentiments.

“A lot of the challenges for small businesses generally, but particularly for minority-owned small businesses-is access to capital. And that has been the challenge for a number of years.”

Rutherford said more needs to be done to cut through red tape so that loans and grants can be more easily obtained by minority-owned businesses.

Treasurer Nancy Kopp said she sees opportunity amid the chaos of the pandemic and the protests.

“This is a potentially wonderful point in time too. Everything has sort of broken open. You can see things more clearly and better than we have for a long time. And we have the capacity, actually, to make these changes. And my greatest hope is that we don’t waste this opportunity.”

Also on Wednesday, the board voted to approve nearly $4 million in compensation for two brothers who were falsely imprisoned for 24 years for a 1994 Baltimore murder.

The brothers are Eric Simmons, 49, and Kenneth McPherson, 46, The payments will be made from now until 2027.

“This is going to compensate two wrongfully incarcerated Marylanders,” Franchot said ahead of the vote.

The board also approved compensation for three other men who were falsely convicted. They are Alfred Chesnut, Ransom Watkins and Andrew Stewart.