Mayor considers requiring face coverings in public, city scouts next COVID-19 testing sites

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Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young provides updates about Baltimore City’s response to COVID-19 during a press conference on Tuesday. Photo via Facebook Live.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Tuesday said his office is looking into requiring people to use face coverings while in public, but he added there would be no way to enforce such a policy.

Young said not all Baltimoreans can afford to buy a traditional face mask, and the city cannot afford to provide one to every resident.

Instead, he said his office is considering requiring people to use face coverings of some sort when in public.

But even then Young said the city could not force people to cover their faces.

“Even if we tell people that they have to cover their face, you’re going to have people that’s not going to do it… There’s no stick to make them do it, but we’re hoping that they will follow the guidelines that we set forth and abide by what we ask them to do so we can slow the curve,” he said.

Quinton M. Herbert, the city’s human resources director, said the mayor’s office is working with the Baltimore City Health Department and the occupational health division of the city’s law department to develop guidance for city employees regarding face coverings in the workplace.

The Baltimore City Council adopted several coronavirus-related resolutions on Monday, including a measure asking Young to require Baltimoreans to wear face masks or other coverings while participating in essential activities.

As of Monday, Montgomery County is requiring all shoppers to wear face coverings, and Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties will follow suite effective Wednesday.

Young said he is also looking into limiting the number of people allowed to ride on MTA buses at one time to avoid crowding that could more easily spread coronavirus.

“We are serious about slowing the curve and we don’t want to have people riding on the bus, all crammed up on the bus, elbow to elbow,” he said.

Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the city is scouting locations in East and West Baltimore for the next community-based testing sites after launching one in the parking lot of Pimlico Race Course last Friday.

The city is analyzing demographic data to determine where testing sites are most needed, Dzirasa said.

“Our goal will be to ensure that all residents, especially those without access to a car, can receive testing in their local community,” she said.

The 21215 ZIP code where the Pimlico testing site is located has at least 155 confirmed COVID-19 cases–the largest number of cases per ZIP code in Maryland–as of 10 a.m. Tuesday, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s Maryland COVID-19 Case Map Dashboard.

Other ZIP codes in Baltimore City with large numbers of confirmed cases are 21206, which includes Wilson Heights and Frankford, and 21224, which includes Highlandtown, Greektown and Canton. Both areas have more than 90 confirmed cases each.

During its first day of operation on Friday, the Pimlico site tested 96 people. Although the site had to temporarily suspend operations on Monday due to severe weather conditions, 115 people were scheduled to be tested at the site on Tuesday, Dzirasa said.

After the Maryland Department of Health began providing a racial breakdown of the state’s COVID-19 cases and deaths last week, the Baltimore City Health Department has begun incorporating that race-related data into its own dashboard at coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov.

As is the case across Maryland as a whole, black residents comprise a majority of Baltimore’s confirmed COVID-19 cases and deaths in which the individual’s race is known.

Dzirasa said there is a “persistent,” “false” and “dangerous” rumor that black people are immune to coronavirus.

To combat that belief, she said the city is expanding its messaging beyond social media and traditional ad buys by posting signage at locations where residents may still be congregating, such as bus stops and corner stores.

Regardless of race or ethnicity, however, Dzirasa said all Baltimoreans should abide by social distancing guidance. Public health experts encourage people to stay home except for essential activities, and maintain at least six feet of distance from other individuals when out in public.

Dzirasa said people exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19, including cough, fever greater than 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit and shortness of breath, should call 211.

Dzirasa added that the 211 hotline is not a replacement for a primary care physician and should not be used by residents who are experiencing severe symptoms that require immediate attention, but she said it is a good resource for information about coronavirus.

Young urged people to avoid hospitals and healthcare facilities when possible and stay home unless they are going out for an essential reason.

“Baltimore, we have seen progress in flattening the curve, but this is no time to rest or let up … Every time you leave your house, you put yourself and everyone in your household at risk,” he said.

Marcus Dieterle


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