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Baltimore County's Executive Wants A Word With The Governor About COVID-19

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John Lee
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Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewsi said Governor Hogan is not communicating with local leaders. Olszewski said that is a missed opportunity for the governor to hear from county executives before making COVID-related decisions, like what to reopen and with what restrictions.

WYPR’s John Lee talked with Olszewski about that, as well as reopening schools and the county’s overall response to the pandemic, now in its seventh month. He joined Morning Edition host Nathan Sterner to talk about what Olszewski had to say.

Sterner: John, when did Olszewski, who is a Democrat, say he and the Republican governor last spoke?

Lee: Olszewski says it was in May, the last time Governor Hogan joined a meeting with county executives on how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic.

Olszewski: “What’s so harmful about talking to local leaders who are really doing the on-the-ground work to help fight this pandemic?”

Lee: Olszewski says he has reached out to the governor’s office many times, but to no avail.

Mike Ricci, Governor Hogan’s communications director, says his office has no record of any recent requests from Olszewski for a discussion with the governor, who he says talks to local leaders often. 

Sterner: The county executive is following the governor’s lead on relaxing restrictions on businesses. Olszewski has said it would be unfair if county businesses had more restrictions than their competitors in nearby jurisdictions. But what if the numbers worsen?

Lee: The county executive says he is not ruling out breaking with the governor and putting restrictions back in place if he has to.

Olszewski: “Our preference is not to, but we will do whatever it takes to make sure we’re following the data and keeping our residents as safe as we can.”

Lee: More than 200,000 people have died of COVID-19 in the U.S., with nearly 600 of those deaths coming in Baltimore County. The county has had more than 17,500 cases. Olszewski calls those numbers “staggering.” And while the county has a low positivity rate of 2.3%, he says people need to remain vigilant.  Meantime, tens of thousands of county residents continue to need help getting the basics.

Olszewski: “It’s sort of that basic bread and butter of education, child care and employment are the things that are keeping me up at night.”

Lee: Around 164,000 jobless claims have been filed in the county since March. The county has served more than 6 million meals.

Sterner: Last week, Baltimore County School Superintendent Darryl Williams presented a plan to have teachers back in classrooms but still teaching virtually October 19. Some students would return by November 13. Olszewski was critical of Williams for not first consulting with him and county health officer Dr. Gregory Branch. What does he say he needs to hear from the superintendent?

Lee: Olszewski says he needs to know what guidelines the school system plans to follow to make school buildings safe.

Olszewski: “Both myself and our health officer are responsible for the safety and wellbeing of everyone who lives and works in this jurisdiction, and we take that responsibility very seriously.”

Lee: And Nathan, a couple of other things that came out of my conversation with Olszewski:

You know local and state leaders across the country have been waiting months for a second COVID relief package from the federal government to help them provide basic services. House Democrats and Senate Republicans disagree on how big that package should be.

Olszewski says the need is dire for the county. As for what that might mean if no relief comes, Olszewski points to Baltimore City, which is planning an emergency withdrawal of up to $25 million from its rainy day fund to balance its budget.

And I asked him how he plans to vote this fall. Olszewski says his application is in for a mail-in ballot. He says when the time comes he will put that ballot into one of the county’s 43 drop boxes.

Nathan: John, thanks for keeping us up to date with your coverage.

John: My pleasure

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