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Baltimore imposes restrictions; leaders call for actions to slow virus

Baltimore imposes restrictions; leaders call for actions to slow virus

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"I am not afraid to do the right thing over the popular thing," says Brandon Scott, Baltimore's new mayor. "This is about saving lives. Nothing more, nothing less." (AP File Photo)
“I am not afraid to do the right thing over the popular thing,” says Brandon Scott, Baltimore’s new mayor. “This is about saving lives. Nothing more, nothing less.” (AP File Photo)

Leaders representing the eight largest jurisdictions in the state called on Maryland residents to take personal responsibility for slowing the rapid spread of the coronavirus even as they called for more statewide measures.

The call comes as the state is reporting new numbers that show the spread of COVID-19 is exceeding the peaks seen in the spring. But the chief executives of seven of the state’s larger counties and Baltimore city, while noting their jurisdiction’s unique situations, called on a more statewide approach even as they individually enact a patchwork of measures.

“Yes, I certainly believe that this should be done statewide because we have one health care system in this state,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat. “We could stop this virus in its tracks in Anne Arundel County but our two hospitals would still have the patients coming in from other counties.”

Pittman said executives are concerned by a weekly hospital report provided to the executives by Johns Hopkins warning that without some actions, the state could soon see 10,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations crammed into a health care system that has roughly 8,000 beds statewide.

“That’s a pretty scary thought and why most of us are talking about further restrictions and pushing the numbers down,” said Pittman.

Maryland’s COVID situation continues to deteriorate and Gov. Larry Hogan warned Tuesday that dark days were ahead, even as he said additional actions were not yet warranted. The governor has scheduled a 3 p.m. news conference Thursday to update Maryland’s coronavirus efforts.

“Based on our current trajectory of cases and hospitalizations, projections show that our hospitals will be overwhelmed if we do not act,” said Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott, who earlier in the day announced new restrictions in the city. “In the absence of actions like we had in the beginning of this pandemic, we have to take steps to keep residents safe.”

“We all need to pull together as a community, as a state, as a region and recognize that COVID-19 has no borders,” said Scott. “We must make the tough sacrifices now.”

On Wednesday, the state’s total number of patients hospitalized for COVID reached 1,715, more than the highest previous point in the pandemic. The state also set new highs for acute patients for the third time this month.

The rolling seven-day average for new daily cases is 2,757, a new high, 27% higher than a week ago and 18% more than Nov. 25.

With 22 days left in the month, December has already reported 21,518 new infections, good enough for the third highest month during the pandemic.

“We have seen these numbers before,” said Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich. “We’ve faced these back in the spring and back then the state and the counties largely closed. The actions that the governor took and took earlier than other states led to a marked turnaround and substantial improvement in our numbers.”

The executives renewed a call, with the governor, for their residents to recommit to efforts that could slow the spread including avoiding large indoor gatherings.

“My message has been very strong in Harford County and the region is that in particular we need personal responsibility now more than ever to wear a mask, wash your hands and practice social distancing,” said Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, the lone Republican on the panel. “You can do so much more than a government program can do if you do it yourself.”

Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner said she is concerned about surges in rural areas of Western Maryland that could affect her county, which has one hospital.

Allegany and Garrett counties continue to lead the state in terms of new cases per 100,000 people. Allegany reports the top rate in the state with over 170 new cases per capita. Frederick is over 50 per capita.

“We know the virus has no boundaries,” said Gardner. “What happens in our rural jurisdictions does affect what happens in our more suburban and urban jurisdictions. And so the effectiveness of the decisions we make individually are somewhat diminished by that inconsistency across jurisdictional boundaries which is why regional and statewide consistency is very important.”

In lieu of state action, each of the leaders at Wednesday’s virtual news conference has imposed a patchwork of orders and restrictions that in some cases have caused confusion. And while citing the unique situations of their own jurisdictions, many called on Hogan to impose tighter rules for the entire state.

One day after being sworn in, Scott Wednesday imposed tighter restrictions to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

“I am not afraid to do the right thing over the popular thing,” said Scott. “This is about saving lives. Nothing more, nothing less.”

Beginning Friday at 5 p.m.:

  • All indoor gatherings public and private are capped at 10 people. Outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people.
  • Restaurants are barred from offering indoor or outdoor dining but may continue carryout.
  • Theaters are closed.
  • Businesses such as cigar shops, hookah bars, and adult entertainment establishments are closed.
  • Religious institutions, retail businesses, outdoor entertainment venues, malls, gyms and casinos are limited to 25% capacity. No food or drinks are allowed to be served at the city’s only casino.
  • The Maryland Zoo in Baltimore, National Aquarium and museums are capped at 25% capacity.
  • Personal services businesses are limited to 25% capacity and appointments only. Businesses are required to keep a log of customers and employees for contact tracing purposes.
  • Recreation and Parks fields are closed.

Elrich, the Montgomery County executive, sent new restrictions to his county council for approval including: closing indoor dining while continuing to allow outdoor patrons along with carryout and delivery; limiting capacity in large retail stores to 1 person per 200 square feet to a maximum of 150 people in a space of 30,000 or more square feet; limiting non-participants at amateur sports to 10 people indoors; limiting religious gatherings to 25 people outdoors without county approval and larger crowds with county approval; limiting indoor sports to 10 people.

If approved by the Montgomery County Council, the new restrictions would go into effect on Tuesday at 5 p.m.


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