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Baltimore officials: No coronavirus cases in the city, mayor’s annual address postponed

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa and Baltimore Mayor Jack Young give an update on the coronavirus in Baltimore.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young confirmed Wednesday there are still no known cases of the new coronavirus in the city, but said preparing for a potential outbreak of the illness is his administration’s “top priority.”

He is postponing the mayor’s annual State of the City address, which was scheduled for March 23 at Coppin State University, in light of COVID-19 concerns, and instructed all agency heads to put together plans for continuing their work should the virus show up in Baltimore.

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Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said she was “not at liberty to say" how many people in the city are being tested for the illness.

She also said there is not a threshold of positive cases that would automatically trigger the widespread closings and quarantines seen in other cities across the world.

Young’s cabinet members have been working closely to monitor the illness, he said. He brought several together Wednesday for his weekly news briefing.

Baltimore schools CEO Sonja Santelises said the district is encouraging families with children who get sick with anything to keep them at home. The school system has stepped up maintenance efforts, including ordering supplies so teachers and administrators who don’t have soap in their buildings can request that from headquarters.

“We will deploy some of our operations teams to make sure that all schools, particularly those with low supplies at this point of the year, have access to soap and gloves and other disinfecting agents,” Santelises said.

Several Maryland universities have cancelled classes in an effort to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Santelises said large colleges have different considerations than an urban school district such as Baltimore’s.

“It’s important for the public to understand that the dynamics of a university system — the size of the University of Maryland — with young adults and faculty in residence — is a very different setting than K-12 buildings that are by in large emptied every day and cleaned regularly,” she said.

Should the district have to close, Santelises said the district will ensure the thousands of children who rely on free breakfast and lunch at school will still have access to those meals.

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Baltimore Fire Chief Niles R. Ford urged residents to only call 911 in emergencies. Residents can call 211 to get the latest updates on the coronavirus.

“If people use the [911] system in an improper way, as we evolve into what we could possibly evolve into, they could exacerbate our system," Ford said.

The city is also considering relaxing its leave policies and allowing telework should “social distancing” measures becomes more necessary to reduce the spread of the disease.

Democratic City Council President Brandon Scott said he doesn’t think it’s necessary yet to consider closing government meetings to the public, but his office has stepped up its efforts to livestream hearings so people can watch from home, if they’re not comfortable being around large groups of people.

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