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Baltimore County

Baltimore County Council extends state of emergency order by 4-3 vote after debate

By a 4-3 vote across party lines, the Baltimore County Council voted to extend the county’s state of emergency by 30 days.

The council and residents spent much of the meeting debating the merits of such an order, which officials say allows the county to procure needed resources more quickly.

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“I have to be able to move very quickly in my department,” said Dr. Gregory Branch, the county health officer. “Going through the regular chain, I cannot do that quickly. That’s what a state of emergency is helping us to do.”

The order allows the county to reinstate various restrictions, including capacity limits on businesses and indoor gatherings. The vote Monday allows the order to extend until Nov. 3. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. first sought to reinstate the local order in late August, after it had expired, amid a spike in coronavirus cases.

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Republican councilmen David Marks, Wade Kach and Todd Crandell voted against extending that order, arguing that the county charter does not explicitly grant local leaders more powers over procurement and questioning why it is needed.

All four Democrats on the council — council chair Julian Jones, councilmen Izzy Patoka and Tom Quirk and councilwoman Cathy Bevins — voted to extend the order.

“Here we are legislating something that we don’t need to … to put powers in the hands of an executive branch that doesn’t need it,” Crandell said.

He asked Branch whether the county struggled to secure resources when the county’s local state of emergency order initially expired in July after Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, announced that the state’s emergency order would sunset.

The county did not see an interruption of services, Branch said, but that “was a time we had a lull in the numbers,” he said.

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It’s not that the state of emergency enables the county to receive special funding, Branch said: “It’s how quickly we can actually use the funding.”

The county’s seven-day average testing positivity rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is 4.79%. According to the CDC, about 73.1% of county residents 12 years or older have been fully vaccinated.

Branch and Democratic council members contended that the need for a state of emergency was evidenced by county schools that are seeing outbreaks and hospitalizations that have increased, with the unvaccinated accounting for the most severe cases.

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“People are ready to return and move on to the normal; however, the transmission and the outbreaks are still occurring,” Branch said. “People are still dying.”

Patoka amid the discussion floated the prospect of a so-called local “vaccine passport,” a concept of providing proof of vaccination for certain activities, like attending events or traveling.

“I’m just really, really concerned about the road that we’re heading down by continuing to do these things, and the potential erosions of our basic freedoms,” Crandell said later.

“Passports were mentioned tonight. You think we have an argument now,” he said. “Wait until that comes up.”


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