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Baltimore mayor declares state of emergency, announces 5 coronavirus cases, some with ‘clear’ community transmission

Mayor Jack Young declares a local state of emergency because of the coronavirus, effective at 12:01pm today.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Wednesday put the city under a State of Emergency as the number of confirmed cases of the new coronavirus rose to five, with evidence of community transmission.

Young’s executive order allows for the city to make emergency procurements related to the pandemic. It is in effect for at least 30 days.

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“Baltimore is moving to a new phase of response,” Young said during a news conference.

City solicitor Dana Moore said one of the most important aspects of Young’s Wednesday declaration is it lets officials secure goods “on an emergency basis.” As part of their response to the virus, she said, the city needs to buy more food and pay to shelter homeless people in hotels.

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“We are in a new world,” Moore said. “We don’t have time to wait to go through our normal city procurement process.”

The five confirmed cases in Baltimore involve a person in their 60s, a person in their 70s and three people in their 20s, said health commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa. All are in “good to stable condition.”

The health department investigates each case to find out whether a patient has been traveling and who they have recently contacted.

“It’s clear that there’s been community transmission,” Dzirasa said.

Dzirasa pleaded with people across the city to avoid close contact with one another to stop the virus from spreading even more rapidly. She issued the same warning to those gathered beside her during Wednesday’s news conference, which was held outside to allow for more distance between people.

Before Dzirasa began her remarks, she turned to a large group of city officials and instructed them to spread out. “It’s making me nervous,” she told them. “Six feet — that’s the message we want to promote.”

It was one of many moments at City Hall that signaled business was not going on as usual. Wednesday was the first day Young instructed all “telework eligible” city employees to work from home. At the weekly Board of Estimates meeting, every other seat was blocked off and a request for out-of-state travel was withdrawn.

Baltimore joins several other counties in Maryland who have already declared a State of Emergency, including some who did so several days ago.

“We are now all knit together,” Moore said of Baltimore and the other jurisdictions. “We are all hyper-focused on fighting COVID-19.”

The city activated its Emergency Operations Center last week and has ramped up efforts to distribute food to elderly people and children who are out of school for at least two weeks.

Baltimore will also temporarily halt evictions, relax parking restrictions and delay its annual tax sale.

Young assured residents that essential work would continue.

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With officials grappling with how to prepare for a pandemic, Baltimore’s daily problems remained in the background.

Seven people were shot in the Madison Park neighborhood early Tuesday night.

City Council President Brandon Scott said city officials need to be working just as hard to end gun violence in Baltimore as they are working to stop the spread of the new coronavirus.

Young called Tuesday’s violence unacceptable.

“We can not clog up our hospitals or their beds with people who are being shot senselessly because we’re going to need those beds for people who might be infected with the coronavirus," he said. "Put down the guns.”

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