BALTIMORE COUTY — Sighting a spike in positive COVID-19 cases, Baltimore County is enforcing some restrictions in hopes of slowing the spread of the virus—and some of those restrictions may alter the way people celebrate the upcoming holiday season.
Gov. Larry Hogan gave another press conference on Nov. 17, issuing yet another round of restrictions to slow the quick spread of COVID-19, a rapid spike in cases that has alarmed state and local officials. With the rise in cases, he and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. have taken actions to further slow that transmission.
“Over the past eight months, what feels like a lifetime for many of us, we have collectively faced and continue to face what may be the most challenging period in our lives,” Olszewski said during a press conference last Friday.
Olszewski began his press conference by saying that the County has taken significant steps to protect county residents: a robust testing system has been implemented, businesses are taking proactive steps to protect consumers, Baltimore County Public Schools has created a virtual learning model for students, etc.
Despite these adjustments, Olszewski said, Baltimore County has seen a significant increase in COVID-19 cases and the County’s positivity rate. Olszewski reiterated what he called a tough challenge, saying that a “long, dark winter” lies ahead.
“The positivity rate for Baltimore County, which has skyrocketed 129 percent since Oct. 3, is now at 6.4 percent,” Olszewski said. “The case rate per 100,000 residents has increased more than 150 percent since late October and now stands at 27.6 per 100,000. Hospitalizations are at a staggering 120 percent increase since Oct. 23 and are now at their highest level in five months.
“To a significant degree, much of the surge we are seeing can be attributed to a double whammy – the colder weather pushing us into more poorly-ventilated spaces where transmission thrives, and residents allowing a false sense of safety to take over a casual gatherings like dinner parties, sleepovers and holiday get-togethers.”
Starting Nov. 15, the County underwent a small series of new restrictions to again “flatten the curve” and reduce the recent spike in positive cases. All social gatherings not associated with operating or patronizing a business establishment or otherwise subject to existing state orders will be limited to 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. Bars and restaurants were required to close at midnight. Youth recreational activities are prohibited until further notice.
“This virus has not grown weary, but it thrives when we are weary,” Olszewski said. “It thrives when we let our guard down. Other parts of the country have let their guard down and they are now facing what is being described as a catastrophic lack of hospital beds.”
“The truth is, we will never return to normal if we don’t put in the hard work to slow the spread of this virus. If we ignore the warning signs today, it will take even longer and be even more painful to get back to normal. It’s critical that we keep acting for the good of each other.”
The order for bars and restaurants to close at midnight will be nullified. Hogan announced on Nov. 17 that bars and restaurants are ordered to close at 10 p.m. This order takes effect on Friday, Nov. 20 at 5 p.m.
“We are in a war right now, and the virus is winning,” Hogan said. “Now more than ever, I am pleading with the people of our state to stand together a while longer to help us battle this surging virus. Your family and friends are counting on you, your neighbors are counting on you, and your fellow Marylanders are counting on you to stay ‘Maryland Strong.’”
Along with that, more restrictions will go into effect on Friday at 5 p.m. Capacity at religious facilities and retail establishments will be reduced to 50 percent. This includes bingo halls, bowling alleys, pool halls, roller and ice skating rinks, fitness centers, and social and fraternal clubs.
Fans are no longer permitted to attend racetracks or athletic stadiums, which includes professional and collegiate sports. State health officials have issued an emergency order to prohibit all hospital visitation until further notice. Also, health officials have issued guidance warning hospitals and other medical facilities to avoid any elective procedure admissions that are not urgent or life-saving—especially if they are likely to require prolonged artificial ventilation, ICU admissions, or may have a high probability of requiring post-hospital care in a skilled nursing facility.
“We’re now seeing widespread community transmissions, not just in our cities, but in our rural counties that had not experienced the spread earlier this year,” Hogan said last Tuesday.
Hogan said last week that one of the things leading to the spike in cases is “COVID fatigue,” a form of fatigue that experts say is causing people to become careless, usually because they are tired of being careful, afraid, or cooped up indoors. Fighting this fatigue will be a challenge requiring everyone to do their part, Hogan said.
Maryland and Baltimore County have both taken more proactive steps to continue to assist residents during the pandemic. Last Thursday, Hogan announced $70 million that will go toward the health and safety of residents. Of that, $20 million will be used to add to the state’s stockpile of personal protective equipment (PPE). Another $15 million will be used to add more staffing to the Department of Unemployment Insurance. The state has administered nearly $8 million to more than 640,000 Marylanders, Hogan’s office said last week in a press release.
Another $10 million will be used as assistance for renters seeking relief, another $10 million to accelerate the state’s distribution of a vaccine, and $10 million more to support Maryland food banks.
Olszewski announced more efforts from Baltimore County to assist County residents during his press conference last Friday. Earlier last week, Olszewski committed $11.5 million to county public schools to assist in their preparations for reopening.
Even more money has been committed, including funding to assist small businesses with expenses, to reimburse improvements to fight the spread of the virus, assistance for chambers of commerce and business associations and direct funding for professional artists, musicians and performers.