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With coronavirus pandemic ongoing, who enforces mask rules in Carroll County?

You notice that many of your favorite local businesses have begun to open their doors after months of closure, per state orders to limit the spread of COVID-19, and have decided to stop by a local business. You walk in and are surprised to find that no one, not even the store owners, are wearing masks. Concerned, you wonder what you should do.

In such a scenario, ideally you would call the Carroll County Health Department rather than the police, according to Andrea Hanley, a spokesperson from the Bureau of Environmental Health at the Carroll County Health Department.

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“They [police] are not the ones getting complaints about masks. We’re the ones doing the investigations,” she said. “If we have a problem during the investigation, we will follow up with the police, and that doesn’t happen very often.”

Hanley added, “If we go in and the retailer has an issue where they say they’re not going to comply, then that’s when we call the police. And the police will follow up with an investigation, and we’ve had to do that several times.”

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According to Hanley, the health department receives a handful of complaints regarding facial coverings nearly every day that either come from the public, the department’s call center or other county facilities that may refer complaints to the department. After a complaint is made, environmental health staff would then contact the business or individual in question and conduct an onsite investigation with a health inspector.

“We take a look to see if they are following the proper orders while we’re out there. We’ll go over the proper procedures and what they should be doing, and if the complaint is valid we always write something up while we’re out there and let them know that according to the governor’s executive order you have to be masked,” Hanley said.

The challenge seems to lie with big-name retailers, such as Walmart, in which thousands of people are walking through shop doors nearly every day.

“What’s really difficult for these retailers, especially for these bigger retailers, is when you have thousands of people coming through your door every day, you’re going to have somebody that’s not going to be wearing a mask,” Hanley said. “So that one person sees them and then they call to complain.”

According to Maggie Kunz, a health department spokesperson, a Walmart Supercenter in Sykesville was written up numerous times in April due to issues with compliance regarding social distancing requirements and other health orders.

“We received a lot of complaints and there were issues in regards to compliance, so we issued them an order and since then they’ve been in compliance,” Hanley said of the Walmart.

The order in question was an “order of immediate compliance,” which is issued by a health officer and outlines what requirements the business needs to comply with.

Casey Staheli, a spokesperson for Walmart, told the Times in an email that Walmart has taken “all measures necessary to safeguard the well-being of those inside our stores, fulfillment centers and distribution centers,” which have all been regularly cleaned and sanitized for months.

“In the event we do have a confirmed case at any of our stores, we are working with those associates and offering guidance and time needed to receive medical care,” Staheli said. “Associates have been encouraged to prioritize their health and stay home if feeling sick.”

She added that Walmart has a COVID-19 emergency leave policy in place through July for employees “who feel unable or uncomfortable coming to work.”

According to Gov. Larry Hogan’s April 15 executive order, “all customers over the age of nine are required to wear Face Coverings while inside the enclosed area of any Retail Establishment or FoodserviceEstablishment,” and “all Foodservice Establishments shall require staff who interact with customers (including, without limitation, delivery personnel) to wear, and those staff shall wear, Face Coverings while working.” Those who failed to comply with the orders could be subject to a $5,000 fine or imprisonment not exceeding one year.

Hanley said she wasn’t aware of any instances in which an individual or business was fined or charged for not wearing a mask, but could recall a few incidents in which Maryland State Police were called when a business owner was refusing to wear a mask during an investigation.

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For the Carroll County Sheriff’s Office, education seems to be the main focus when it comes down to mask enforcement, according to Col. Larry Suther.

“We’re not in the business of writing tickets or finding folks who are not wearing masks, but we do encourage it,” Suther said, adding that, to his knowledge, no citations had been written up.

“What we’ve seen, for the most part, is complete compliance. People are wearing masks, at least in my personal experience,” Suther said.

Maryland State Police has not issued citations for not wearing a facial covering, according to a spokesperson.

Often, people will comply after an initial follow-up, Hanley said. “The majority of people, they want to do what’s right.”

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