Baltimore County to follow state’s lead in lifting coronavirus restrictions

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The Baltimore County Courthouse. Photo by James G. Howes, via Wikipedia.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Thursday announced the county would enter phase two of the state’s recovery plan, allowing an array of non-essential businesses to reopen at 5 p.m. on Friday.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday announced that Maryland was ready to enter the second part of the three-phase “Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery” plan.

As was the case with phase one of the state’s recovery plan, Hogan said local jurisdictions would be able to begin phase two at their own discretion.

Olszewski said he would stop having separate restrictions for the county and align with the state’s decisions to reduce confusion about what activities are permitted in different jurisdictions.

“We know that a patchwork approach has put businesses on an uneven playing field, and we know that the public health benefits have been muted by having differing approaches in different jurisdictions across our state,” he said.

Olszewski said he learned about Hogan’s decision to move Maryland into phase two of recovery at the same time that the public did. He added that he would appreciate more communication from the state before such announcements so that he and other county officials can better prepare for any changes.

“We would welcome additional time, additional collaboration, additional conversations,” he said. “We want to be part of the reopening conversation. What we don’t want to have is confusion among our residents and businesses.”

While Olszewski said Baltimore County is “very fortunate” that it has been able to procure more personal protective equipment for first responders, he reminded residents the area is “not out of the woods” in dealing with the coronavirus.

“This virus is as much with us now as when this pandemic started,” he said.

As of Thursday morning, Baltimore County had 6,476 confirmed coronavirus cases, 355 confirmed coronavirus-related deaths, and 16 deaths suspected to be caused by COVID-19, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s COVID-19 Case Map Dashboard.

Over the past seven days, an average of 7.9 percent of tests of Baltimore County residents came back positive, compared to 8.9 percent statewide.

Olszewski encouraged businesses that have reopened or will reopen after Friday to continue taking precautions to protect staff and customers from COVID-19.

Restaurants and bars are still not allowed to reopen indoor dining, but the governor has allowed outdoor dining to resume.

Olszewski said the county is working with local chambers of commerce to identify streets that can be closed for restaurants to expand outdoor seating.

He added that the county has already issued conditional approval for businesses to expand outdoor seating into parking lots and other outdoor spaces.

The county will be reaching out to State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon for additional clarity about increasing childcare for parents returning to work as more businesses reopen, Olszewski said.

Touching on a story that has dominated headlines across the country, Olszewski called the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd in police custody “heartbreaking.”

“Unfortunately it was a reminder of how far we’ve yet to go,” he said. “It was a reminder that racism still exists. It was a reminder of the reform needed.”

In Baltimore County, Olszewski said those reforms include increased transparency and training officers about deescalation and implicit bias.

He added that before Floyd’s death, the county had already created a work group to address equitable policing in Baltimore County.

“I think it’s important for leaders to be listening right now, but I think it’s also important that we understand the urgency of the calls for action and change that people are demanding,” he said.

Marcus Dieterle

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