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Baltimore County closing senior centers, canceling recreation events as coronavirus spreads

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski during a press conference to announce a comprehensive public safety plan for the county Wed., Jan. 22, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff)
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski during a press conference to announce a comprehensive public safety plan for the county Wed., Jan. 22, 2020. (Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun Staff) (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore County will close its senior centers next week and restrict recreation events, as it ramps up coronavirus response following the county’s first confirmed case Wednesday.

County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. said the county will add new protocols to screen for COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, to protect first responders. The county is seeking emergency supplies of soap, hand sanitizer and other cleaning supplies. And the county is reviewing options for county employee sick leave and remote work. Nonessential out-of-state travel is canceled for county employees.

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“We knew it was only a matter of time before a case was confirmed in Baltimore county and we have been preparing for its arrival,” Olszewski said. “It is clear that we must take this threat seriously."

Olszewski said the county wants to maintain the sanitation of senior centers, jails, courts and areas with “large traffic flows.” All senior centers will be closed to the public effective Monday, and Olszewski said events planned at those centers this week will be canceled. He urged seniors to work with county staff now to sort out how they can continue to receive services.

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Recreational facilities will remain open, but Olszewski said events managed by the county department of recreation and parks will be canceled. Likewise, the county is also advising the county recreation council to suspend their sporting events as well as their three remaining budget town halls.

“All outdoor and indoor Baltimore County Recreation and Parks programming is cancelled until further notice,” the Towson Recreation Council said in an email sent to its subscriber list Thursday afternoon. “We will update you when we have more information.”

Additionally, Olszewski said the county is suspending all currently scheduled meetings related to the county’s Comprehensive Zoning Map Process. He said the county is exploring “virtual options” for residents to share their input on the forthcoming budget and the zoning process.

Olszewski is also urging organizations to postpone or cancel any planned large events.

Dr. Gregory Branch, county health department director, said the county has been preparing since December for what’s now been deemed a pandemic. Branch said this won’t be Baltimore County’s last positive case, but he’s urging people to “be calm” and to wash their hands with soap and water to help prevent the spread as well as avoiding large crowds and staying at home if people are feeling ill.

“Please please wash your hands frequently. These may seem to be small things but they have a major impact,” Branch said. The county has sent 20 COVID-19 tests to the CDC, Branch said, including the one that tested positive. Ten of those tests had negative results and the county is waiting for the results of the remaining tests.

People with symptoms are advised to reach out to their primary care provider or the emergency room, and those experts will reach out to the county, Branch said.

County schools superintendent Dr. Darryl Williams said the school system is postponing or cancelling all large assemblies. They’re taking a case by case approach to deciding which field trips to cancel. He said the school system will work with the state schools chief and the county health department to make any decisions about school closures.

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