Effective at 9 a.m. on Thursday, Baltimore County will require everyone age 2 and older to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces to slow the spread of coronavirus, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced on Tuesday.
“The evidence here is indisputable,” Olszewski said at a press conference. “Masks help reduce the spread of COVID-19… But we know that this tool is most powerful when used universally within our community settings.”
Maryland orders already require people to wear face coverings while riding public transportation and visiting restaurants, bars and retail businesses.
Baltimore County’s order will add recreational facilities, places of worship and other public locations to the list.
Olszewski also strongly encouraged people to wear face coverings in outdoor spaces when they are not able to maintain six feet of social distancing, although the order does not require it.
“If you’re hiking or on a trail, walking in your neighborhood or picnicking at a county park, you should have your mask with you and you should put it on if there are other people nearby,” he said.
Olszewski said that wearing a mask is a “sign of respect” for the health of other people and should not be a politicized issue.
“This isn’t about politics,” he said. “It’s about public health. It’s about saving lives.”
On Monday, local health officials from Maryland’s six largest jurisdictions–Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties and Baltimore City–sent a letter to Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips, calling on the state to renew restrictions on restaurants and bars, The Baltimore Sun reported.
Following that push, Olszewski on Tuesday said indoor dining is “not currently safe.” He urged Gov. Larry Hogan to prohibit indoor dining and only allow outdoor dining, takeout and delivery.
“The individuals who work in these establishments are inherently at risk and, as a result, so too are their patrons,” Olszewski said.
Throughout the unrolling of the state’s three-phase reopening plan, Hogan has left it up to local executives to decide whether their jurisdictions would align themselves with that plan.
Last month, Olszewski chose to follow the lead of the state’s phased reopening plan to reduce confusion about what activities are allowed and to ensure that the county’s businesses would not be at a “competitive disadvantage” to establishments in jurisdictions with looser restrictions.
The public health benefit of stricter coronavirus restrictions in Baltimore County would be limited if neighboring jurisdictions had more relaxed guidelines, he said then.
Speaking today, Olszewski said the state’s “flexible” approach, which Hogan has touted as a way to balance the easing of coronavirus restrictions for jurisdictions with differing levels of COVID-19 cases, is “uneven and it’s ineffective.”
Olszewski reiterated his call for Hogan to resume weekly phone check-ins with local executives, something the governor hasn’t done in two months.
Those conversations to foster more collaboration between the state and local governments, he said.
“We need to hear directly from the governor on what he is thinking,” Olszewski said. “We need to be able to share with him what we are seeing on the ground locally. And together, we should develop an ongoing, coordinated response.”
Despite efforts to increase testing capacity, expand contact tracing, acquire more personal protective equipment, distribute groceries and meals to families in need and use grant funds to support small businesses, Olszewski said Baltimore County is continuing to grapple with the impact of COVID-19 on residents’ health and economic stability.
Baltimore County has confirmed 9,994 coronvirus cases, with 271 cases newly reported since Monday. The county has also confirmed a total of 497 deaths due to COVID-19.
The average positive test rate over the past seven days in Baltimore County was 5.92 percent on Tuesday, which has been on the rise since falling to 4.64 on July 9.
“If we want to keep businesses open, if we want to get our kids back in the classroom this fall, if we want to feel anything like normal again, we have to stop the spread of this virus within our communities,” Olszewski said.
Yes Johnny O, let’s unmask the truth. It is about politics of fear and votes. Not on my (your) watch. Go ahead and destroy more people’s lives with yanking the earnings rug out from underneath them.
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