Warning that the toughest challenge yet could be “COVID’s long, dark winter,” Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced new restrictions Friday.
They are, like those his counterparts in other jurisdictions have announced, more stringent than those Gov. Larry Hogan announced earlier in the week.
As of 5 p.m. Sunday, Olszewski said social gatherings will be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors.
Bars and restaurants will be required to close each night at midnight in Baltimore County.
Also, all recreational youth sports will be prohibited, starting this Tuesday, November 17.
Olszewski said the COVID-19 positivity rate in Baltimore County has increased 129% since October 23 and is now 6.4%. He said hospitalizations have increased 120% since that same date, the highest they’ve been in five months.
“Much of the surge we are seeing can be attributed to a double whammy of colder weather pushing us in to more poorly ventilated indoor spaces where transmission thrives, and residents allowing a false sense of safety to take over at casual gatherings like dinner parties, sleepovers, and holiday get-togethers,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski’s action comes as other localities put restrictions back in place this week.
Baltimore City re-entered Phase 1 level restrictions at 5 p.m. Thursday.
Mayor Jack Young’s executive order includes reducing capacity to 25% at religious facilities, retail establishments, gyms, theaters and other businesses, and also capping indoor and outdoor private gatherings at 10 people.
On Thursday, Anne Arundel and Prince Georges Counties announced a cap of 10 people at indoor gatherings and put new limits on restaurant capacity.
Local leaders have said they have had to act because the restrictions Gov. Hogan put in place do not go far enough. On Tuesday, the governor ordered restaurants to go to 50% capacity for indoor dining. It had been at 75%.
Olszewski on Friday did not change the seating capacity in restaurants. In that regard, the county will remain aligned with the state.
In his remarks, Olszewski talked about the personal toll the pandemic has taken on him.
"I've watched as more than 23,000 of our residents have contracted this virus and 664 have died," Olszewski said. "I've spoken to next of kin of the souls we've lost. Those converstions are a heartbreaking reminder that these are not numbers. These are our neighbors."
Olszewski said while we have all grown weary, the coronavirus has not.
"It thrives when we are weary, Olszewski said. "It thrives when we let our guard down."