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Scott Extends City COVID-19 Measures, Contrary To Hogan’s Statewide Lifts

Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at a Friday news conference.
Charm TV
Mayor Brandon Scott speaks at a Friday news conference.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced Friday that Baltimore City will not follow Gov. Hogan's loosened capacity restrictions.

Mayor Brandon Scott issued an executive order Friday to extend Baltimore City’s ongoing COVID-19 restrictions through March 22 at the earliest, despite Gov. Larry Hogan’s statewide curtailment of capacity limits.

Under Scott’s order, city bars and restaurants may continue to operate at half capacity outdoors and 25% capacity indoors. Retail establishments, gyms, libraries, museums, casinos, salons, barber shops, theaters and outdoor entertainment venues may continue to operate at 25% capacity.

“Baltimore has leaned on the expert direction of healthcare professionals, as well as local data on COVID-19, hospitalizations, deaths and new cases to shape our re-opening efforts,” Scott said at a news conference. “Our approach will not change.”

Hogan’s executive order, announced Wednesday, eliminates capacity limits at restaurants and opens up large indoor and outdoor venues to 50% capacity, while keeping in effect the state’s mask mandate.

Local leaders have the authority to set tighter restrictions than those set by the Republican, who told them to adopt his loosened restrictions. Baltimore City’s neighbors, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties, listened. Starting at 5 p.m. Friday, restaurants and bars in those counties may operate dining at full capacity both indoors and out.

The city’s latest seven day testing positivity rate is 2.2% — a 24 percent decrease from four weeks ago. The seven-day average new case count is 93 cases per day — a 12 percent decrease from four weeks ago. Baltimore also is making vaccine progress; 15% of residents have received at least one dose.

But the apparent plateau may not be what it seems, health commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said.

“We've seen some fluctuations in the data just this week,” she said. “And after a year of witnessing ups and downs in data trends, we remain consistent in our certainty that time is needed to determine the true direction of these trends.”

Dzirasa said she wants to examine at least four weeks of data since current restrictions were implemented before the city considers changing them. That data should be ready by March 22nd, she said.

Another factor the Scott administration considered is St. Patrick’s Day: Baltimore has consistently seen post-holiday spikes in COVID-19 cases. While the weather may be improving, Scott said, residents still must avoid crowds.

“Don't let the thrill of a good time harm your health or the health of someone you care about,” the Democrat said. “You can literally kill someone that you love by being irresponsible.”

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the former city health commissioner and Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said that many public health experts eyed Baltimore as a potential COVID-19 catastrophe — but the city “vastly exceeded expectations.”

That’s because of the caution of the city’s leaders, he said

“You take an analogy of a boat moving towards safer waters,” Sharfstein said. “The city has had its hand on the tiller and it has been steering the ship based on the best data available to get to a better place. And this is not the time to take your hand off the tiller.”

State Sen. Bill Ferguson said he supports Scott’s “thoughtful and measured” reopening process.

“We can’t drop the ball on the one yard line,” the Southeast Baltimore Democrat said. “I know the temptation is there to just say that we're done. But we got to follow the data.”

Dennis Schrader, Maryland Acting Secretary of Health, told WYPR that he does not think the governor’s decision to loosen capacity restrictions will lead to a surge of new COVID-19 cases.

“The vaccine, because of the infrastructure we're building, is going to continue to move quickly,” he said.

More than 50% of Marylanders over 65 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, Schrader said. The state has fully vaccinated 656,886 people, which is about 10% of Maryland’s population.

“I will also point out that we did not lift the mask requirement or the social distancing. So it's not like we're saying, okay, we're moving on. We're still in the middle of a fight,” Schrader said.

WYPR’s Rachel Baye contributed to this report.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.