Police dispersing large gatherings, working with National Guard for humanitarian efforts

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Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young speaks as Police Commissioner Michael Harrison, left, and Fire Chief Niles Ford, right, listen on. Image via Mayor Young’s Twitter.

The Baltimore Police Department has been enforcing a recent executive order from Gov. Larry Hogan prohibiting any gatherings larger than 10 people, Commissioner Michael Harrison said Monday afternoon.

“When we get calls of non-compliance, where there are gatherings of 10 people or more, we are responding to that and dispersing those individuals and educating those business owners on what’s actually required under the governor’s executive order,” he said.

Hogan said Monday morning that “an overwhelming majority of Marylanders” have been staying home and are practicing social distancing in public, maintaining at least six feet of distance between themselves and others. But he criticized people who are breaking the law by attending large gatherings and “endangering the lives of your family, your friends and your fellow citizens” in the process.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young urged people to stay home to slow the spread of the coronavirus and make it easier for law enforcement officials to work.

“These people are out here working around the clock, so we need all of you to do your part to stay home so they can safely do their jobs,” he said.

Harrison said BPD is working with law enforcement partners at the local, state and federal levels, including the Maryland National Guard.

Harrison said he wanted to “play down rumors” about the reason why the National Guard had arrived in Baltimore. He said troops would be assisting with “humanitarian efforts,” such as meal distribution, providing aid, planning, transportation and “logistical assistance as needed.”

The Maryland National Guard arrived in Baltimore on Friday to respond to coronavirus, with images of their presence bringing back memories of the Baltimore Uprising in 2015.

But the Maryland National Guard tweeted on Friday to quell residents’ concerns.

“There is not a threat of martial law,” they wrote. “If you see a [Maryland National Guard] Humvee on your street, know we are helping someone in need! Whether it’s delivering much needed supplies or setting up tents for health screening stations, we are working for you!”

Baltimore Fire Department Chief Niles Ford emphasized that 911 is an emergency line and that community members should not inundate it with non-emergency calls.

“Subsequently, we really only want people to call 911 when there is a life-threatening emergency,” he said. “We don’t want to exacerbate the system. We don’t want to overwhelm our EMS services and our hospitals.”

Harrison said people can file online police reports or call 311 for incidents that do not require an immediate police response, such as minor fender benders or noise complaints.

He added that last week BPD restricted public access to district stations. Although those stations will continue to operate their front desks to field public inquiries about emergencies, he reiterated that people should report non-emergency incidents online or call 311.

Harrison said BPD is distributing personal protective equipment to the department and is working to procure more.

He added that BPD is “ramping up custodial duties such as disinfecting our facilities and vehicles.”

Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the Maryland Department of Health has instructed all healthcare providers to test patients regardless of a person’s ability to pay or a person’s insurance.

She added that hospitals and medical facilities should prioritize residents who have been hospitalized with symptoms of COVID-19; symptomatic emergency medical service personnel, healthcare workers and law enforcement personnel; symptomatic patients in nursing homes or other elder care facilities; symptomatic individuals who are medically fragile; and symptomatic, high-risk, unstable patients whose care would be altered by a diagnosis of COVID-19.

When the city officials began taking questions, a community member asked Young how he would address the impact of the coronavirus on Baltimore’s homeless population.

“What’s going to happen to the street homeless people, mayor? We have a lot of individuals outside right now and we need some answers,” the community member asked.

Young responded that “We are working diligently to address that,” without providing additional details or explanation.

The interaction came after a group of concerned citizens wrote a letter to Young, City Council President Brandon Scott and members of the council, calling on them to “provide emergency housing and food protection for those who are poor, homeless and struggling.”

“Our neighbors experiencing homelessness must have the same opportunities to limit their exposure and maintain stringent hygiene practices, both for the wellbeing of every member of our community and to prevent the spread of a much greater public health crisis,” the letter’s authors wrote.

Baltimore Brew also reported Saturday that two homeless individuals who had displayed symptoms of COVID-19 had been told the city would provide transportation to Johns Hopkins Hospital, where they could be tested.

But after the two individuals arrived at Health Care for the Homeless, staff at the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services said they could not provide transportation to the hospital. The two individuals left after hours of waiting.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sunday recommended that homeless encampments should not be cleared during the new coronavirus outbreak.

Marcus Dieterle

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