BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Maryland State Police began uniformed patrols around the state to enforce COVID-related orders.

Those patrols will continue through the December holidays as state officials fear the growing spread of the virus.

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“The intent of this particular initiative is to really go after the major offenders, the crowds of people who may come into the bars and restaurants that have historically happened the night before Thanksgiving,” said Sgt. Travis Nelson of the MSP. “We want to have that visual presence of uniformed troopers working with local authorities out on the street.”

 

He said they would assist local law enforcement where necessary and troopers will be in areas with high concentrations of bars.

“We want to make sure we do as much as we can to get the business into compliance and that may be just having a conversation, some minor tweaks… but really it is not about heavy-handed enforcement here. It’s really about education and keeping everybody safe,” Sgt. Nelson told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren.

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Sgt. Nelson said roughly 100 state police would be part of the effort but that it would not take away from other essential duties of the MSP.

“We did look at areas that traditionally have a high concentration of people the night before Thanksgiving, so a lot of those are your downtown-style areas, but it’s all at the request of the locals because we want to make sure that there’s a need for us to be there. We don’t want to insert ourselves into any local county or city that doesn’t need our support at this time,” Sgt. Nelson said.

Nelson stressed that troopers would not focus on every minor violation but said large violators who repeatedly ignore the rules could face jail time and a $5,000 fine.

On Monday, Governor Larry Hogan announced a new statewide hotline to report violations. You can call (833) 979-2266 or email prevent.covid@maryland.gov

“The prevention tip line is really designed for ongoing concerns and complaints of unsafe facilities—not for in-progress incidents. We still encourage people to call local law enforcement when they see an in-progress event. However, if we do get a concern reported to the prevention tip line, troopers working the tip line will make sure that they connect with our high-visibility troopers in the field to try to address the concern.”

All bars and restaurants in Maryland are required to close by 10 p.m.

Maryland Public Safety Alert screenshot courtesy Mike Hellgren

Many Marylanders got an alert Friday night on their cell phones reminding them of the regulations and enhanced enforcement.

“Quite honestly, the virus is really not under control, and as much as the governor is trying very hard, I think it’s really up to us to try to put it back under control,” Little Italy resident Mark Palmer told Hellgren.

State health officials are concerned about rising infections fueled by holiday celebrations. The health department reported 2,697 new cases Wednesday and 38 new deaths.

“The thing that I’m generally worried about right now is what happens as a result of the holidays and that could potentially be like a super spreader event in multiple different pockets across our state because multiple different people get together and then spread this virus even further—so there is a chance that this could get significantly worse through December and January,” said Dr. David Marcozzi of the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS).

A UMMS survey of 525 people between November 16th and 23rd found 44 percent of Marylanders are not changing or canceling their Thanksgiving plans because of COVID-19.

The survey also asked about the vaccine and found 70 percent of people in the greater Baltimore area would be willing to be vaccinated when it is available. Overall, 65 percent of Marylanders were willing to be vaccinated. That number dropped by 15 percent among residents of Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore.

“This virus is unfortunately not going away,“ Dr. Marcozzi said. “It doesn’t know any difference between Thanksgiving and yesterday.“

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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.