ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — An emergency indoor mask mandate for Anne Arundel County begins at noon Friday.

The order, which was issued in response to a recent surge in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations, covers all indoor public spaces, including restaurants, stores, gyms, and houses of worship.

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It comes as the county’s hospitals are treating a record 191 patients for COVID-19, and after the local positivity rate rose to 21%, surpassing 20% for the first time since April of 2020.

In a statement Thursday, County Executive Steuart Pittman said he had hoped government mandates would be a thing of the past, but that wasn’t an option with cases and hospitalizations spiking.

“Masks slow the spread, and it’s time to put them back on,” Pittman said.

Anne Arundel Medical Center and University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center are seeing so many hospitalizations, they’ve shifted to crisis and contingency standards of care.

Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the county’s health officer, said that’s because they’re treating the highest number of COVID-19 patients since the onset of the pandemic.

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“Masks are critical in slowing the spread of Omicron, and this order will ensure that everybody is following the same steps to decrease the spread,” Dr. Kalyanaraman said.

Anne Arundel joins Baltimore and Howard counties, which have already issued similar mandates.

Thursday’s announcement came two days after Pittman said he did not have the authority to issue a mandate beyond an emergency measure lasting seven days.

He said the Anne Arundel County Council was expected to discuss legislation when it meets Monday.

The emergency mandate is set to expire on Jan. 7, barring an extension from the County Council.

The county executive indicated Thursday that the mandate has the support of four of five council votes needed to extend the measure beyond seven days.

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“I and many concerned residents will do our best to convince the others that this is a necessary step to keeping our kids in school and our businesses operating safely,” Pittman said.

CBS Baltimore Staff