With the first coronavirus case confirmed, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. and other county officials and partners emphasized the seriousness of the COVID-19 virus and announced a series of closures at a press briefing Thursday morning.
Officials urged community members to remain calm and informed.
“It is clear that we must take this threat seriously. We are doing just that and will continue to do so here in Baltimore County,” Olszewski Jr. said.
The Maryland Department of Health on Wednesday confirmed three additional cases of the new coronavirus in Maryland, including the first in Baltimore County, totaling 12 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state as of 12:20 p.m. Thursday.
A Baltimore County man in his 60s tested positive for COVID-19 and is not hospitalized, Olszewski Jr. said.
That individual worked at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference in Washington, D.C., but had limited contacts there. The people with whom the Baltimore County individual did come into contact have been identified and notified, the county executive added.
Last week, Towson University asked nine students and one faculty members who had attended the AIPAC conference to self-quarantine due to reports of confirmed COVID-19 cases at that conference.
Gregory Branch, director of the Baltimore County Department of Health and Human Services, said people should expect more cases of the coronavirus in Baltimore County.
“Let’s be clear: This is now a pandemic. Therefore, while we have confirmed the first Baltimore County case, it most certainly will not be the last,” he said. “We will not be able to stop this pandemic, however, we can all help to slow down and decrease the number of cases so that our hospitals and healthcare networks will not be overwhelmed.”
Branch said first and foremost people should remain calm.
Secondly, he urged all people to wash their hands frequently and vigorously with soap and warm water, or use hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol.
Branch said that all people, especially individuals over 60 years old or who have pre-existing medical conditions, should avoid crowds as much as possible.
He added that people should cover their mouths for coughs and sneezes, and stay home if they feel ill.
“These may seem to be small things, but they have major, major impact,” he said.
Branch directed people to rely on credible sources, such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and state and local health departments, for accurate and up-to-date information.
He added that Baltimore County has instituted a hotline for people to find answers to questions and concerns about COVID-19. The number for is (410) 887-3816 and will be open daily from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Olszewski Jr. said Baltimore County will close all senior centers to the public effective Monday, and is immediately suspending all senior center organized activities.
“We know that some of our seniors rely on our centers for meals and other services, so we encourage them to work with senior center staff between now and Monday to ensure they are prepared for this closure,” he said.
Olszewski Jr. added those individuals can call the hotline for Maryland Access Point, the state’s aging and disability resource program, at (410) 887-2594 for assistance.
Recreational facilities will remain open, but Baltimore County government is suspending recreational activities organized by the county’s Department of Recreation and Parks until further notice and advising the recreation councils suspend all of their sporting events, Olszewski Jr. said.
Baltimore County government is cancelling its three remaining budget town halls and will be announcing “a virtual option for residents to continue to share their priorities and feedback” in the near future, Olszewski Jr. said.
He added that pending and currently scheduled Comprehensive Zoning Map Process meetings will be postponed and the county will also explore virtual options for those as well.
Olszewki Jr. said Baltimore County government is encouraging any organizations that are holding or planning to hold large events in the county to either postpone or cancel those events in accordance with best practice protocols from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Baltimore County government is suspending all nonessential out-of-state travel for employees until further notice, Olszewski said.
Baltimore County Public Schools Superintendent Darryl Williams said BCPS has canceled all out-of-state professional development activities and professional conferences for staff until further notice.
Williams said BCPS is canceling and postponing large assemblies and events until further notice. He added that the school systems will have limited in-state field trips, but it will “continue to re-examine that decision” on a case-by-case basis.
Playoff games will be happening today and tomorrow, Williams said.
Any decision regarding school closures will be made in partnership with the Baltimore County Health Department and State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon, Williams said.
Sandra Kurtinitis, the president of the Community College of Baltimore County, said that starting Monday, March 16, the college will remain open but all in-person classes will be suspended for one week to allow faculty to transition to remote instruction.
Classes will reconvene remotely March 23, and that plan will remain in place until April 30 unless conditions change, Kurtinitis said.
Jay Ringgold, director of homeland security and emergency management for Baltimore County, said county government has tasked all county agencies to update their continuity of operations plans, which were last updated in the fall.
Ringgold added that the emergency management division raised its activation level to an enhanced level last week.