BALTIMORE (WJZ) —Maryland is launching a COVID-19 compliance team to further enforce coronavirus restrictions as cases continue to surge in the state and has no sign of letting up. This just ahead of Thanksgiving and more people are set to travel despite CDC warnings.
Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday that besides family gatherings on Thanksgiving, the night before is also a time when college students, hometown visitors typically gather together at bars as people are catching up with old friends and family.
“I cannot emphasize how reckless that is,” Gov. Hogan said.
Beginning Thanksgiving Eve, these “high visibility compliance units” will be in popular downtown and Main Street areas including Bel Air, Towson, Salisbury, Silver Spring and Baltimore City.
Maryland State Police will operate a 24/7 phone line and email address to support local compliance teams and help Marylanders with any questions on the state orders and restrictions as well as enforcement.
Marylanders who see unlawful behavior 833-979-2266 or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. The governor said these actions are not just about enforcement, but about educating businesses on how to stay open safely. He said they will be sending additional state police to every single county.
“As COVID fatigue has set in, some individuals and businesses have started to become more lax,” Gov. Hogan said.
Fifty-seven percent of complaints that have been registered with the state have been about compliance issues at restaurants, bars and businesses, the governor added.
“We can’t let a few bad actors spoil it for the others who have been doing such a great job,” he said.
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In a press conference Monday, Gov. Hogan was joined by Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Baltimore County Police Chief Melissa Hyatt, Maryland State Police Superintendent Jerry Jones and Restaurant Association of Maryland President & CEO Marshall Weston. He again encouraged Marylanders to avoid large gatherings and non-essential travel and reiterated the importance of wearing masks.
He commended Baltimore County Executive Olszewski for already forming a task force to inspect 5,200 establishments for COVID-19 compliance.
The county executive said the situation is dire in Baltimore County, with cases more than doubling in the last month.
“This is a matter of life and death,” Olszewski said. “If too many people violate the rules, we are left with no choice.”
He spoke of how some people are still not taking the coronavirus seriously, referencing the local death of a 49-year-old Whiting Turner executive and mother, who died from the virus after she had gotten breast cancer, calling a pillar of her community.
“The void she leaves behind, just like the void that everyone we’ve lost leaves behind, has been immense,” Olszewski said.
He asked those who have chosen to not take the virus seriously to put themselves in the woman’s family’s shoes.
“Would you step in and do the same thing for your loved ones if their lives were on the line?” Olszewski said. “Because their lives are on the line.”
For the past 19 consecutive days, Baltimore County has reported record-breaking numbers, and over the past month, the positivity rate has increased by 185%.
The governor said he will also launch a public health program with the PSAs running on local television stations. MEMA will also send a message to cell phones on Wednesday to remind people of COVID-19 protocols.
Officials are urging the public to stay vigilant, especially as the state heads into the holiday season.
“We’re listening as best as we can,” said Towson University student Bradley Turfle.
Over the course of the pandemic, officials said over 7,000 inspections have been conducted in Baltimore County.
Towson University students like Dylan Lane said he’s felt Covid fatigue in recent weeks, but is grateful for the increased efforts to tackle the spread of the virus.
“It definitely does make me feel safe when I do go out,” Lane said.
Those “high visibility compliance units” will be deployed to Towson as well.
“It’s a day to day industry,” said Nick Zahirsky, general manager at Charles Village Pub and Patio.
Restaurants like Charles Village Pub and Patio say they are relieved restrictions on bars and restaurants remain the same but the staff is prepared for any situation.
“The biggest concern would be that we would go back to just straight carryout,” Zahirsky said.
In Baltimore City, you can also expect additional enforcement, and as officials are sounding the alarm to avoid non-essential holiday travel, some residents are heeding those warnings.
I just hope everybody just follows the protocols strictly so we can get over this quickly,” said City resident Randal Beans.
These concerns come just days after Maryland recorded its second-highest daily increase in coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.
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After several days of single-day new coronavirus case counts surpassing 2,000, Maryland reported more than 1,600 new coronavirus cases Monday. Hospitalizations and the statewide positivity rate increased and 14 more Marylanders have died from COVID.
Some local jurisdictions’ leaders are predicting it will get much worse if the spread isn’t slowed.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich tweeted Monday that he thinks the state should go back to the first phase of reopening guidelines.
Need to go back to Phase 1. We're in danger of overwhelming hospitals, the projections for MD aren't good -small steps won't bend the curve in the right direction. We need the new Admin to get real assistance to businesses that bear this load. It's not blue or red, it's all of us
— Marc Elrich (@Marc_Elrich) November 23, 2020
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said over the weekend called on the governor to act, predicting a “catastrophic scenario at our hospitals.”
Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren he hoped the governor would shut down all indoor dining. He feels it is not safe right now—but has not taken that step himself because he said a piecemeal approach among the counties will not work.
“You cannot wear a mask and eat and drink so the spread is happening there,” Pittman said. “…We are going to look back on this time, and we are going to ask ourselves if we did enough to save lives—if we did enough to protect our healthcare workers from being totally overwhelmed in our hospitals.“
Pittman is advocating for government aide to keep those businesses afloat. He also talked about the difficulties in enforcement.
“There have been some examples where the inspectors have been harassed by people who do not believe these restrictions should be complied with,“ Pittman said. “It is unfortunate. Our women inspectors have had the most harassment. We have had to send men with them, and when they have to ask a business to close, they call the police to join them to do that.“
This story was originally published on Nov. 23, 2020.