County government employees in Anne Arundel County will soon have to prove they’ve been vaccinated for COVID-19 or do not test positive for the virus.
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat, announced a series of new policies and mandates as officials grow increasingly concerned with the rising number of infections.
Beginning Sept. 13, county employees who cannot show they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 will have to provide a weekly negative test to report to work.
Pittman imposed a mask requirement in all county buildings. Employees and visitors, regardless of vaccination status, will have to wear a mask while inside county government buildings beginning Aug. 5.
“We need the masks to prevent the Delta variant from using healthy vaccinated people as carriers,” said Pittman.
County health officials also are asking private businesses to require mask use, but Pittman stopped short of making it a countywide mandate.
“Implementing a vaccination requirement with a testing option is complicated but most likely effective,” said Pittman. “While we understand that there will be some resistance, we expect that most or our employees will welcome this news.”
The county executive said the topic of vaccination requirements had been under discussion for weeks.
Pittman said the requirement aligns with Centers for Disease Control recommendations that call for indoor mask use in jurisdictions where transmission of the virus is consider high — 50 cases per week or about seven new daily cases per 100,000 people.
Pittman, at least initially, lamented not being able to do something countywide, saying he had no authority to do so after Republican Gov. Larry Hogan lifted a state of emergency.
But later, Pittman told reporters that he was uncertain if he would impose a sweeping mask mandate even if he were authorized to do so.
“I can’t answer whether we would take that step,” said Pittman. “Taking it at the county level in county buildings is a great first step and sets an example for other private institutions where the public gathers.”
Pittman, a first-term Democrat heading into an election year, has angered members of the business community with tough capacity and other limits on businesses during the pandemic. One group sued Pittman seeking a court injunction to stop some restaurant capacity limits.
Pittman and Anne Arundel County Health Office Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman Monday called on county businesses to consider requiring masks indoors.
“When you go to an indoor public place, please wear a mask,” Kalyanaraman said. “I urge all businesses and organizations to implement universal masking indoors to contain the spread of COVID.”
A spokesman for the governor said there are no discussions about returning to statewide masking requirements. Individual jurisdictions, including Montgomery County and Baltimore city were able to continue masking requirements without any state authorization.
“I am not familiar with Anne Arundel’s charter powers,” said Michael Ricci, a spokesman for the governor.
A spokesman for Pittman later acknowledged two paths that could be used to implement a countywide masking mandate. The county health officer could issue such an order, but that would likely require some authorization through an order from the state.
In the second route, Pittman could impose such a requirement temporarily under an executive order. He would need approval of the Anne Arundel County Council to continue it beyond seven days, the spokesman said.
“He took the step immediately in front of him,” said Jeff Amoros, a Pittman spokesman. “Additional actions are not off the table.”
Amoros acknowledged that the mandate for county buildings, including libraries, would likely not have as much effect on slowing the spread of the virus as a wider indoor mask requirement.
Key measurements of how well the virus is checked in Maryland continue to move in the wrong direction since late June.
The state has followed much of the nation as spikes driven by cases in unvaccinated people and the Delta variant, which is infecting those who have been vaccinated. In June, all of the state’s COVID-related deaths were attributed to unvaccinated people.
The state’s cases per 100,000 residents fell to an all-time low of 0.9 on June 25. Since then, that rate has steadily increased to 7.89.
The rolling seven-day case average Monday was 476.7, nearly nine times higher than on June 26. The rolling 14-day average is nearly 366.1 new daily cases.
The state’s positivity rate, once at a low of 0.55% on June 30 now stands at 3.23% after more than a month of increases.
Total hospitalizations, which reached a pandemic low of 97 on July 1 now stands at 281. ICU patients, which fell to 31 people on July 2 now stands at 79.
Currently, nine Maryland counties report seven or more new daily cases per 100,000 population: Dorchester, Wicomico, Charles, St. Mary’s, Cecil, Worcester, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel and Harford counties, according to COVIDActNow.org, which tracks pandemic data across the nation.
Baltimore city, Calvert and Frederick counties all report rates of 6.9 new cases per capita daily.
“I expect that the state and most counties right now will be looking very closely at what to do because we have just passed (the CDC) threshold,” said Pittman. “It’s pretty much everywhere so everybody’s going to be confronting these questions, including the governor.”