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State Of Emergency Becomes Political In Baltimore County

Lauren Watley, Baltimore County Government
Baltimore County Council

A politically divided Baltimore County Council voted Monday to extend the county’s COVID-19 state of emergency for 35 days.

The 4-3 vote was along party lines and came following a debate over the role and power of local government.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski reinstated a state of emergency last week, citing an increase in COVID transmission rates. But he needed the council's OK to extend it beyond one week.

Councilman Todd Crandell led the three Republicans opposing it. He said the state of emergency is unnecessary, takes away people’s freedom and allows Olszewski to choose winners and losers.

“In terms of what’s allowed to open, what’s not allowed to open, who needs to wear a mask and who doesn’t need to wear a mask,” Crandell said. “This virus isn’t going away. This virus will mutate beyond what it is now and it’s up to people’s personal choice how they want to handle it.”

But Democratic Council Chairman Julian Jones said the government is there to protect people, in some cases whether they want it or not.

“Whether they want to follow the speed limit,” Jones said. “Whether they want to put on a seat belt. Whether they want to wear a helmet. Whether they want to wear a mask.

“It flies in the face of everything we know in terms of a government, in terms of public health, in terms of laws,” Jones said. “It flies in the face of everything we know to say we as a government should not put rules in place to tell people how to behave because it’s up to them and their personal responsibility.”

After the measure passed with the four Democrats supporting it, Councilwoman Cathy Bevins said, “Thank God.”

Earlier, during the debate, Bevins said unvaccinated people are not wearing masks.

“Because that’s what they’re comfortable with,” Bevins said. “But unfortunately, what they’re comfortable with is killing people.”

Councilman David Marks, a moderate Republican, voted against the state of emergency. In a text, Marks said “Our positivity rate is below five percent, a remarkable statistic driven by aggressive vaccinations. I’ve supported the state of emergency before, but believe the administration has the tools they need to continue that work for now.”

Olszewski so far hasn’t used the state of emergency to issue any restrictions.

Baltimore County Administrative Officer Stacy Rodgers said the county’s hospitals are struggling with increasing demand and staffing shortages. She said the state of emergency allows hospitals to use telemedicine more, which can take some of the pressure off.

“If they can have the flexibility to use telemedicine more readily, then that decreases the in-person demand on our health care system,” Rodgers told the council.

John Lee is a reporter for WYPR covering Baltimore County. @JohnWesleyLee2
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