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Executives Back COVID-19 Related Restrictions

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Courtesy the Olszewski Campaign
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Alarmed by a surge in new COVID-19 cases, the executives of Anne Arundel and Baltimore counties took different approaches Tuesday to the problem.

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski issued an order requiring residents two and older to wear face coverings in indoor public spaces. He said that order, which goes into effect at 9 a.m. Thursday goes beyond an earlier public health order from Gov. Larry Hogan requiring masks in food service and retail establishment.

“Our new order,” Olszewski said, “makes it clear that people are also required to wear them in recreational facilities, houses of worship, and other spaces open to the public.”

He cited the federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention, which has called face coverings “a critical tool and one of the most powerful weapons we have in the fight against COVID-19.” And he argued that the evidence is indisputable that that masks help reduce the spread of the disease.

“This is a small step we can all take to protect ourselves, our neighbors and our loved ones,” he said. “And it’s a sign of respect. It tells other people that we worship alongside or share an aisle with in the supermarket that we respect them as a fellow human.”

Earlier in the day, Anne Arundel Executive Steuart Pittman said he is worried that the rate of the spread of the virus has increased in his county and suggested he might soon have to make some moves.

He said in an online news conference that he was “very clear” when he announced openings last month that he would move slowly.

“We added indoor restaurants and bars, indoor amusement, indoor recreation and indoor mall activities,” he said. “We’re going to have to take a look at whether or not we need to roll those back or whether we just need to increase enforcement.”

He said he has been talking to the executives of the state’s five largest counties about what they can do “as a central Maryland group,” but that no decisions have been made.

Anne Arundel County’s health officer, Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, was blunt, however.

“If we don’t act and we don’t take actions now, we know that we’ll see a continued rise in cases until we see a steep rise in cases,” he said. “We will watch people get ill. We will watch people have long term health effects from this. We will watch people die.”

He was among the health officers of Maryland’s five largest jurisdictions and Baltimore City wrote to the state health department asking for renewed restrictions on some businesses in response to the recent upsurge in coronavirus cases.

The letter, signed by Kalyanaraman and the health officers of Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince Georges counties, called on health officials to revisit “the activities allowed under the current Phase 2 executive orders.”

Mike Ricci, the governor’s spokesman, said in statement they “look closely at the data every day with public health experts,” and that they “continue to emphasize caution and vigilance to Marylanders.”

“We have stressed to local health officers the importance of enforcing the public health orders currently in place, particularly at bars and restaurants,” the statement said. “We cannot allow a small segment of bad actors to squander the sacrifices Marylanders have made. But as the governor has said, if necessary, he is prepared to take action.”

Pittman said he could move as early as Thursday, depending on what the governor does.