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Mask mandate begins as Baltimore County makes plans to increase testing

People line up for COVID testing outside the Drumcastle Government Center in Towson. Credit: John Lee
People line up for testing Tuesday at the Drumcastle Government Center in Towson. Credit: John Lee

Baltimore County’s requirement that you wear a mask inside public places goes into effect at 9 a.m. Wednesday.

Meanwhile, County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch says he hopes he will have 100,000 additional COVID test take home kits by next week. He said he is working out the details of how the testing kits will be handed out.

“They will be free and we’ll be giving them out to the community and it will be multiple locations,” Dr. Branch said.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski announced Monday the at-home testing kits will be paid for with money from the American Rescue Plan. Dr. Branch said the county has been running out of the kits because of the high demand.

“I think people are sick, first and foremost,” he said. “I think people are trying to travel. They’re coming back from traveling and then they’re exposed to a lot of other people.”

The county health department is runningthree COVID-19 testing sitesin Towson, Dundalk and Randallstown. Dr Branch expects a fourth testing site will open in January in White Marsh, near where the county currently runs a vaccination clinic.

On Tuesday afternoon, dozens of people were waiting in line for a COVID test outside the Drumcastle Government Center on York Road, which is the health department’s office building in Towson. People who were walking up were being turned away.

Elyn Garrett-Jones, the spokeswoman for the health department, said they did not have a shortage of tests at the testing site. She said they had calculated how long it would take to test the people already in line. They had to leave enough time to pack up the tests for processing at the end of the day.

Dr. Branch said the highly contagious Omicron virus is tearing through Baltimore County communities. The health department reported Tuesday there are only 14 ICU beds available in county hospitals.

Dr. Branch said it may get to the point where he can no longer do contact tracing.

“Because basically you have to assume that everybody has it,” Dr. Branch said.

The best defense remains getting vaccinated, including a booster shot. People who are not vaccinated run a far greater risk of serious complications if they become infected. People who are vaccinated but get a breakthrough infection usually have milder symptoms.

Olszewski announced Monday he was reinstating a state of emergency in Baltimore County. He can do that for seven days. The County Council must vote to extend it. That vote is expected on Monday, January 3.

The indoor masking mandate includes all public places. There are exceptions. For example, you can take off a mask if you are seated and eating at a restaurant. Also, you don’t have to wear a face covering if you can’t because of a medical condition or disability.

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