Baltimore County officials expressed frustration Friday over reports of residents and even some gyms defying state and local orders prohibiting social gatherings and closing businesses amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“It is frustrating and shortsighted to see some disregarding the safety of their neighbors and risking the spread of COVID-19 for the purpose of socializing,” Police Chief Melissa Hyatt said in a statement shared with Baltimore Sun Media.
“We have a duty to enforce the law within the authority that we are granted for the community to understand the magnitude of this pandemic,” Hyatt said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday amended an executive order to prohibit social gatherings of more than 10 people and mandated the closure of shopping malls, bowling alleys, pool halls, amusement parks and skating rinks. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. shortly followed suit.
“These are not recommendations; these are lifesaving measures that we will enforce,” Olszewski said in a statement.
The governor had already ordered closing restaurants, bars and gyms March 16, a measure meant to contain the spread of the coronavirus, or COVID-19, a respiratory illness that has caused at least 10,000 deaths globally as of Friday.
“These measures are necessary because we continue to see selfish and reckless behavior that jeopardizes the health and well-being of our loved ones, friends and neighbors,” Olszewski said.
Police spokeswoman Sgt. Vickie Warehime said the department has been responding to reports of large social gatherings, mostly of teenagers, but also had to shut down some smaller gyms that remained open despite Hogan’s order.
“This is a serious issue,” Warehime said. “If you do violate the governor’s orders, we’re ready to take action.”
Confirmed cases in Maryland continue to rise, increasing by more than 54% since Thursday and totaling at least 149 in the state. Baltimore County had confirmed at least 13 cases Friday, including one case of a patient younger than 18, county health officials said.
Baltimore County Councilman David Marks said he reported groups of people gathering at parks and high school turf fields to the police this week, calling the action “extremely disconcerting.”
“People have to realize that the reason why there have been escalating regulations is because there are citizen ignoring these requests” for social distancing, the Perry Hall Republican said.
Experts recommend social distancing by keeping a 6-foot distance from others and avoiding the public sphere when possible as a way to head off the spread of the virus that could overburden state hospitals and kill vulnerable populations like the elderly or those with underlying health conditions.
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“A lockdown might have been inevitable anyway,” but “the continued crowding of people in public spaces is accelerating the movement toward the lockdown,” Marks said.
California’s governor on Thursday announced an indefinite lockdown on all non-essential movement, followed by an identical edict in New York on Friday. The restrictions mean residents must stay inside except for work, going to the grocery store, pharmacy, bank or to pick up restaurant orders.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if [a lockdown comes] sooner than later,” Baltimore County Councilman Tom Quirk said. “We’re seeing a lot of the major places already doing it.”
However, the Oella Democrat said, “The short-term pain will be long-term gain. The quicker we really socially distance, the quicker this virus will [subside], the quicker we can all go back to work and recover.”
Marks added the “outpouring of good will” with the emergence of community mutual aid groups and volunteers is “a silver lining” in the ongoing pandemic.