Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. is reinstating a local state of emergency amid a spike in coronavirus cases, he announced Tuesday.
The decision comes as the county’s 7-day average of new cases has increased by almost 380% since the start of the month, according to the county. Transmission in the county is “substantial,” according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, meaning there are between 50-99 new cases weekly per 100,000 residents.
Baltimore County’s testing positivity rate of 4.4%, however, is below the 5% threshold the CDC set as a target last year for governments seeking to reopen. Adults between 18 and 39 are driving the increase, according to data on the county’s coronavirus tracking website.
The equivalent of 74% of the county’s population was vaccinated at a county facility, but it’s unclear how many out-of-county patients received their shots in Baltimore County. The Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium was one of the state’s major vaccination centers.
Olszewski first declared an emergency March 13, 2020, and it remained in effect until July 9. The County Council will have to vote to extend the order beyond Aug. 31.
The local emergency order would allow the county to reinstate coronavirus restrictions, such as capacity limits on businesses and indoor gatherings. In announcing the emergency order, Olszewski did not announce any coronavirus-related restrictions, and spokesman Sean Naron declined to say whether Olszewski was considering any.
“Government has an obligation to do all we can to protect the health, safety and well-being of our residents,” Olszewski said in a statement. “While we’ve made undeniable progress in our fight against this deadly virus, the rapid emergence of the Delta variant has made it clear that we need access to every tool in our toolbox to be able to respond to it.”
The order also allows governments access to state and federal resources they otherwise would not have, including programs like the U.S. Small Business Administration’s economic injury disaster loans, Naron said.
Baltimore County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Wm. Branch said earlier this month the county would not reinstate an indoor mask mandate, unlike Baltimore City and Montgomery County. The county has followed the example of jurisdictions like Anne Arundel County by requiring face masks inside government buildings.
The council will hold an emergency meeting Monday to vote on extending the order, according to Councilman Todd Crandell, who previously has voted against similar extensions.
“The local state of emergency gives the County Executive powers to control aspects of commerce, public gatherings and transportation. That’s it,” Crandall, a Republican, wrote on Facebook.
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He also wrote that he couldn’t find any evidence that the emergency order is needed to receive state and federal pandemic aid.
“In fact, the county has been operating without a State of Emergency with no slowing of its response for the last six weeks,” Crandall wrote.
It’s unclear how the emergency order affects Baltimore County Public Schools, set to begin the school year next week. The school system has required everyone inside school buildings to wear masks and has required staff show proof of COVID vaccination or submit to weekly testing.
“I’m not aware of any immediate impact this would have on BCPS operations or on preparations for the first day of school,” said Charlie Herndon, schools spokesman.
“I do think it’s a good reminder for everyone, however, that we in Baltimore County and Maryland are far from being clear of this stubborn and still dangerous COVID virus,” he added.
Maryland’s general state of emergency ended in mid-August. But in the nearly two months that have passed since Gov. Larry Hogan announced he would end the order, infections have spiked nationwide, driven by the delta variant of the coronavirus, a dangerous and more contagious version of the virus. As of Tuesday, 719 people were being treated for the virus in Maryland hospitals, a number that has more than tripled since Aug. 1.
Baltimore Sun reporters Hallie Miller and Emily Opilo contributed to this article.