Baltimore now up to 5 cases of COVID-19, mayor signs local state of emergency

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Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young speaks outside City Hall. Image via Facebook Live.

Baltimore City now has five confirmed cases of COVID-19, officials announced today, and in response to the virus, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young declared a local state of emergency, effective at 12:01 p.m. Wednesday.

Young said the order would speed up the city’s ability to secure goods and services to respond to the pandemic and give first responders the equipment they need to safely do their jobs.

“The emergency declaration will also serve as an alert to our state and federal partners that Baltimore is moving to a new phase of response,” Young said at a rare press conference outside City Hall.

Prior to today’s declaration, the city opened an emergency operation center last Friday to respond to the virus. Officials managing the city’s response on Monday requested necessary supplies for the next 90 days from the state, Young said.

The city remains open and operational.

“All city resources will be focused on continuing to serve the residents of Baltimore City,” Young said.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said today the city now has five confirmed cases of the virus–one more than in state figures released this morning. One from an adult in their 70s, one from an adult in their 60s and three from adults in their 20s. There has been some evidence of community transmission, she added.

All the infected people are in good or stable condition, Dzirasa said. The key now is trying to mitigate the spread of the virus, especially so people who are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, the elderly and people with pre-existing medical conditions, do not contract it.

Officials urged residents to practice methods recommended by health experts to stop the spread of coronavirus, such as social distancing (staying six feet apart from other people in public), frequently washing hands with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds, using hand sanitizer, cleaning high-touch areas, and coughing or sneezing into your elbows.

“The best thing Baltimoreans can do today is stay home and not expose themselves or their family to any unnecessary risks,” Young said. He also asked residents to check on elderly neighbors to make sure they have all the food and medicine they need.

Dzirasa emphasized that there is a limited number of tests, and not everyone exhibiting mild symptoms of coronavirus should ask for one. She advised people with fever, cough and shortness of breath to self-isolate for 72 hours and stay at home for seven days following the onset of symptoms.

People whose condition worsens, or who fall under the high-risk groups, should call their primary care doctor or 911 immediately, Dzirasa said.

Those recommendations may change as testing becomes more readily available, she added.

The city’s response to the virus began well before today’s order. Last week, following the closure of schools, officials set up more than 50 grab-and-go sites at schools, rec centers and senior centers to distribute meals to people who are food insecure.

Baltimore’s food policy director, Holly Freishtat, said the nine agencies and 13 nonprofits are part of a working group that meets multiple times a week to share updates and see if there is additional need. On Monday, more than 2,000 meals were distributed to residents, she said, and the group is working to expand the number of sites.

The city has set up a dedicated 311 line for residents looking for information about the distribution sites, restaurants looking to donate food or for residents who want to volunteer.

“We are coordinating across more than 20 organizations to ensure that our food insecure populations don’t face any additional challenges or burdens,” Freishtat said.

Tisha Edwards, head of the Mayor’s Office of Children and Family Success, said the number of schools providing free meals to children has grown from 10 to 17. Next week, during what would have been spring break on the school calendar, children can grab meals at more than 40 rec centers, she said.

Colin Tarbert, president and CEO of the city’s quasi-public economic development arm, the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC), said the organization is weighing the impact of coronavirus on local businesses.

The BDC has contacted 70 businesses and put up an online survey that has been filled out by more than 100. Restaurants, bars, venues–all of which have been shut down by an executive order by Gov. Larry Hogan–and hospitality services are among the hardest hit.

Respondents have seen an average 65 percent decline in revenue overall, Tarbert said, and expect to reduce their workforce by one-third if the pandemic persists for much longer.

On Monday, the city submitted paperwork to make local businesses eligible for assistance from the Small Business Administration (SBA), and Tarbert said he anticipates Hogan submitting that request to the federal agency today.

The SBA provides emergency relief low-interest loans of up to $2 million so businesses and nonprofits can pay off debts, make payroll and pay suppliers, he said.

Brandon Weigel

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