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Baltimore City Council Considers Series Of Coronavirus Legislation At Second Virtual Meeting

screenshot via Emily Sullivan/WYPR

    The Baltimore City Council heard a series of coronavirus measures during its second-ever virtual meeting Monday night. 

City Council President Brandon Scott introduced an ordinance that would make the acts of impersonating an official and issuing “false statements” during a declared state of emergency a misdemeanor. 

Maryland U.S. Attorney Robert Hur has said that scammers have developed pandemic-related schemes to prey on the vulnerable, such as a group of bad actors who recently set up a phony website that pretended to be Johns Hopkins University's very popular map that shows all the COVID-19 cases in the world.  

“What this does is recognize that this is a very serious situation, and that we cannot allow our citizenry to be preyed upon, especially given how many of them are already out of work,” the Democrat said. 

Scott also introduced three resolutions related to the pandemic on Monday.

The first calls on Mayor Jack Young to issue an executive order to make essential businesses institute social distancing measures within their establishments, as well as a separate order to require Baltimore residents and visitors to don masks in public.

Young has frequently called on Baltimoreans to adhere to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance, which includes wearing face masks and practicing social distancing, but has not ordered them to do so. 

Washington, D.C. and Montgomery County residents are required to wear a mask in grocery stores. A similar Prince George's County's requirement will begin on Wednesday.

Young and Scott, both Democrats, are competing in a tightly packed primary race for mayor. 

A second resolution asks Young, the city’s spending board and all other relevant city agencies to make hotel room options available for people experiencing homelessness during the pandemic in order to avoid packing people into crowded shelters, which are not conducive to social distancing.  

The mayor’s Office of Homeless Services has already screened and placed at least 150 people in hotel rooms; the resolution asks the administration to both issue progress reports on making hotel options available and tap into federal funds from the CARES Act and FEMA to provide immediate housing. 

Another resolution calls on Gov. Larry Hogan to release non-violent, low-risk offenders from jails and prisons in order to slow the spread of COVID-19. On Monday, the state Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services confirmed Maryland’s first death of someone incarcerated from COVID-19.

“We know that close quarters in prisons and jails make it difficult, if not impossible, to adhere to social distancing guidelines,” Scott said.

The resolution says the governor can reduce the amount of people in prison by releasing any non-violent, low-risk inmate whose sentence is scheduled to end in the next year, who is being held on a technical supervision violation or who is particularly vulnerable to COVID-19, such as people 65 years of age and older or people with underlying health conditions. 

Councilman Zeke Cohen introduced a resolution to close the “digital divide” that makes online schoolwork difficult or impossible for thousands of Baltimore children that do not have access to reliable technology; he called on the state and city to work together to provide concrete solutions. 

“if you can't get online, you can't get your constitutionally guaranteed education,” Cohen said. “And we know that this inequity hits our most disadvantaged families the hardest.” 

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.
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