TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — People ages two and older will soon be required to wear masks in indoor places in Baltimore County, officials announced Tuesday.

Beginning at 9 a.m. on Thursday, masks will be required at all indoor places, including houses of worship and indoor recreational facilities under a new public health order. Indoor dining is excluded.

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At a news conference Tuesday afternoon, County Executive Johnny Olszewski said the step was something that was necessary to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“If we want to keep businesses open, if we want to get our kids back in the classroom this fall, if we want to begin to feel anything like normal again, we have to stop the spread of this virus within our communities,” Olszewski said. “It’s clear that here in Maryland, despite our best efforts to date, we are still not doing enough.”

 

The mandate does not include further restrictions on outdoor mask-wearing like in Anne Arundel County, where people are required to wear masks outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.

CORONAVIRUS RESOURCES: 

Baltimore County’s Executive also called on the governor to ban indoor dining and close indoor bar service across Maryland after another day with more than 800 new cases.

”The public health evidence and the current state of this pandemic make it clear that indoor dining is not currently safe,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski.

However, Gov. Hogan has already given local leaders the flexibility to rollback reopenings as they see fit.

“In our state, all of our local governments requested authority and flexibility… They all have different needs, and there is not a one-size-fits-all, so we set a floor and a set of standards… but if a local jurisdiction has a higher positivity—like we had in Prince George’s County—they could go slower if they wanted to and have more restrictions if they wanted to,” Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday on a web chat with former FDA Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb.

But in Baltimore county, leaders say they want uniform, statewide closures. They fear neighboring counties would continue to allow indoor dining—making any of their new restrictions ineffective.

“We don’t have direct say over what happens in our neighboring jurisdictions. The governor does have that say and does have that authority, so it would be much cleaner for our residents to have the governor step up and lead on this,” Olszewski said.

He noted neighboring Carroll and Harford Counties could choose not to follow a stricter order if he handed one down in Baltimore County. “If a resident cannot eat indoors here, they will very likely travel somewhere else to do so,” he said.

Nancy Hafford, the executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, said most restaurants are enforcing the regulations, but for those that do not, “I’ll tell them not to dine, not to drink in your place if you’re going to make it dangerous for other people.”

She worries about those establishments that could permanently go out of business. “I really feel that 50 percent of them aren’t going to make it the way it is, but if we go into another shutdown, we’re going to lose 85 percent of them,” Hafford said.

Health officers from Howard, Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Montgomery and Baltimore Counties—along with Baltimore City—have joined the call for restricting indoor drinking and dining, fearing it may be behind the dramatic rise in young people contracting COVID—19.

“We have got to do something early. Once the horse has left the barn and people are dying, at that point, we can’t do anything with COVID,” said Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch.

Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman stressed the importance of wearing masks. “Indoor settings are a greater risk than outdoor settings for transmission, so if you do go into a restaurant or a bar, please ensure you are wearing your facial covering,” Dr. Rossman told WJZ.

On Monday, the health officers in Maryland’s six largest jurisdictions, including Baltimore County, sent Deputy Secretary of Health Services Fran Phillips a letter saying bars, restaurants and food courts should be closed for indoor dining once again to slow the spread of COVID-19.

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department’s website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ’s coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

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