Baltimore County

Baltimore County declares state of emergency, reinstates indoor mask mandate amid rising COVID cases

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. on Monday declared a COVID-related state of emergency and is requiring face coverings at indoor public spaces beginning Wednesday morning.

The mandate will go into effect at 9 a.m. on Dec. 29 and applies to all individuals 5 and older patronizing restaurants and food businesses, retail stores, houses of worship or any establishment that serves the public. The County Council will have to approve extending the order until Jan. 31; they’re scheduled to take up a vote at their Jan. 3 meeting, according to a news release.


The order comes as cases across Maryland surge and the omicron variant spreads. The state health department recorded more than 25,000 new COVID-19 cases between Thursday and Sunday and the state’s seven-day average positivity rate bounded past 15%.

“I know firsthand that vaccines work,” Olszewski, who last week tested positive for COVID-19, said in a statement.


“They help keep people out of hospitals — and keep people alive. Unfortunately, too many people have selfishly chosen to not get vaccinated. As a result, Baltimore County must now take this additional action to help limit the spread of COVID-19, reduce the burden on our health care system, and save lives,” he said.

More than 64% of the county’s population has been fully vaccinated, according to state data.

Since Nov. 26, the number of patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county has increased by more than 188%, according to the county.

The order may be enforced by county health officials and public safety personnel like police, building inspectors and code enforcement, county spokesman Sean Naron said.

Under Maryland’s state of emergency, for instance, code enforcers reported restaurants that failed to enforce masking requirements and capacity limits and the Board of Liquor License Commissioners levied fines.

Those who violate the mandate could have to pay up to $1,000, according to county code.

The county will also open a large-scale COVID-19 testing clinic. Details on its location are not finalized.

Olszewski plans to spend American Rescue Plan funding on 100,000 rapid at-home tests to provide to county residents for free. The county has been giving those away at testing sites, health clinics and libraries as they’ve been available, Naron said.


Olszewski follows Howard County Executive Calvin Ball in reinstating an indoor mask mandate. Prince George’s and Montgomery counties and Baltimore City also require face coverings indoors. Republican Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said Monday he does not plan to bring back indoor masking requirements.

Olszewski, a Dundalk Democrat, allowed his prior state of emergency order to expire in November, citing then “encouraging progress” in the number of new coronavirus cases.

The order rankled council Republicans when Olszewski sought to reinstate it in August after the original order expired in July. Olszewski needed the council’s signoff to extend the state of emergency for 30 days, which the council twice approved by a 4-3 vote split across party lines.

But Republican Councilman David Marks said he previously opposed Olszewski’s state of emergency when the seven-day case positivity rate was a fraction of what it is now.

The county reports its testing positivity rate is 6.31% as of Monday. Much of Maryland’s COVID-19 reporting ground to a halt after a cyberattack on the state Department of Health earlier this month and some functions are still crippled.

“The data is convincing to me,” the Perry Hall councilman said. “I did not think we needed the state of emergency in September and October when the positivity rate was much lower.”


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“I certainly do not want mass shut downs — as long as we’re taking those incremental steps, I don’t think many Republicans would object,” he added.

Council Chair Julian Jones, a Democrat, said he will vote in support of the mandate.

Driving past a long line of people waiting to get tested for the coronavirus outside the Liberty Family Resource Center in Randallstown, Jones said it’s imperative the county quickly secures resources, which the local state of emergency helps achieve.

Nancy Hafford, executive director of the Towson Chamber of Commerce said her goal was to avoid forced closures of nonessential businesses, as happened at the outset of the pandemic in March 2020.

“The most important thing to me is they can’t close nobody down,” Hafford said.

”If we’ve gotta wear masks for awhile — so be it,” she said. “We just can’t go backwards. We cannot go backwards.”


Baltimore Sun reporters McKenna Oxenden and Christine Condon contributed to this article.