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Baltimore County to require face coverings in all indoor public spaces beginning Thursday

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. announced Tuesday that the county will require all those aged 2 or older to wear face coverings in all indoor public spaces and asked Gov. Larry Hogan to once again restrict indoor dining statewide to curb the spread of the coronavirus.

The mask order will go into effect at 9 a.m. Thursday.

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“If we want to keep businesses open, if we want to get our kids back in the classroom this fall … we have to stop the spread of this virus in this community,” Olszewski said.

“This isn’t about politics. It’s about public health. It’s about saving lives.”

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Olszewski, a Democrat, said the county mandate differs from Maryland’s in that it requires masks and similar face coverings in indoor recreational spaces and places of worship.

“Any action that we take, even universal mask-wearing, is something that we’re doing because we want to keep our businesses open,” he said.

County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch said the mask mandate “is necessary to keep us from losing ground in our fight against the spread of COVID-19.”

“Remember this is a marathon, not a sprint,” Branch said, “and much of this marathon is an uphill battle.”

Maryland as a whole reported 860 new confirmed cases of the virus Tuesday, the sixth time in eight days with more than 700 new cases. Almost half of Tuesday’s additional cases were among residents in their 20s and 30s, and Branch stressed that younger people should wear face coverings, wash their hands frequently and practice social distancing.

Olszewski also called on Hogan, a Republican, to limit dining statewide to outdoor, delivery and carryout options. But Olszewski said he would not enforce such a directive in Baltimore County alone because of concerns of how it would impact county businesses, and such an order wouldn’t mean much if surrounding counties still allowed indoor dining.

He also asked Hogan to resume his weekly calls with the state’s county executives.

Olszewski said if the state does not act, he and the leaders of neighboring jurisdictions could decide to institute bans on indoor dining. But, he added, that still would mean there would be other nearby counties where that remained an option.

“Indoor dining is not currently safe,” Olszewski said. “It would be much cleaner for our residents to have the governor step up and lead on this.”

A spokesman for Hogan did not respond to questions Tuesday afternoon, but earlier in the day Hogan discussed the state’s situation at an American Enterprise Institute event broadcast by C-SPAN.

“Our goal would be to try to keep businesses open and the economy unless it’s absolutely necessary,” Hogan said. “If we feel like we have to do something, I’m not going to hesitate to, just like we did on the way down, but my goal is to try to keep the economy safely open because the economic crisis is nearly as bad as or just as bad as the health crisis.”

Both Olszewski and Branch also encouraged mask-wearing outdoors in situations where keeping a distance of at least six feet was not possible.

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“We cannot afford to be complacent,” Branch said. “The actions we take today can play a huge role in resuming interactions with our friends and family tomorrow.”

People with medical conditions, mental health conditions or disabilities preventing them from wearing masks will not be required to wear face coverings under the county’s mandate. Masks also are not required while eating or drinking at a dining establishment, per Hogan’s orders, which still require masks when otherwise moving in or about a restaurant or bar premises.

The new order allows the county to warn, modify operations or immediately shut down any business or place of assembly presenting “an immediate threat to public health,” Olszewski said. Places demonstrating an unreasonable risk of exacerbating the spread of COVID-19 also will face enforcement.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce, which represents 350 businesses in the area, said she doesn’t have a problem with the mandate. Although she is worried it’s too hot for outdoor dining to thrive during the summer, she stressed it’s important to get “businesses back on track.”

Hafford said she’s more worried about business closures, and she hopes the county will focus on holding the “blatant offenders” accountable. Businesses gathering people indoors without regard to public safety guidance will “ruin it for all of the businesses that are doing what they’re supposed to do,” she said.

“If I ever hear that anyone is doing anything that they shouldn’t be doing, I will call the owner and say that I will make it clear to the other business owners in the area not to support you if you do anything that’s detrimental to our community,” she said. “I’ll tell people not to eat or not to drink there.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Wilborn P. Nobles III contributed to this article.

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