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Baltimore suspends Rec and Parks activities until Jan. 31; no further COVID restrictions considered, mayor says

Activities sponsored by the Baltimore Department of Recreation and Parks will be suspended until Jan. 31 due to a surge in coronavirus cases, Mayor Brandon Scott announced Wednesday.

The cancellation, which is effective immediately, was called for by the city following a 185% increase in COVID-related hospitalizations in the city in the last four weeks.

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“We are experiencing high community transmission, and we have to do everything in our power not just as a government and health care providers, but as a community to protect our loved ones, especially those at severe risk for illness,” Scott said at a news conference outside the War Memorial flanked by health care officials.

Scott said the city is lacking data on COVID-related deaths as well as testing and vaccinations due to the shut down of the state’s data pipeline. State officials have said a “network security incident” forced the health department to take servers offline and hold back updates. The state began reporting statewide case again data on Monday.

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However, the hospitalization data was enough to prompt the cancellation of recreation events, Scott said.

City officials are working to address high demand for coronavirus testing, both at testing centers and for at-home tests for the virus, Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said. Long lines have formed at city testing sites this week amid the surge and ahead of the Christmas holiday.

City testing sites have expanded to now include Monday hours, and the city has distributed 11,000 home testing kits to 54 community organizations, libraries and vaccination sites, Dzirasa said. Organizations that work with susceptible and marginalized populations are being prioritized, she said.

“We’re working to expand capacity, but we ask you be patient at our testing sites,” Dzirasa said.

Physicians from several city hospital networks spoke, urging city residents to limit travel, wear masks and get vaccinated against the virus. Several officials said that staffs at their hospitals have shrunk and warned city residents to use emergency rooms only when absolutely necessary.

Kevin Sowers, executive vice president of Johns Hopkins Medicine, said the number of employees of his health care system testing positive for the virus has also increased, further taxing the system. At a previous high, it was 23 employees testing positive per day, he said. Now it’s 63.

Asked if he would consider imposing further restrictions due to the coronavirus surge, Scott said no others are being considered. Baltimore already requires masking while indoors in the city, one of the few jurisdictions in the state that never lifted such a mandate.

Scott said he has instructed Dzirasa to prepare recommendations for a city vaccine passport — a digital or paper document showing a person’s vaccination status against COVID. Scott declined to offer further details on the proposal, saying they will be shared in the “very near future.”

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