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Services at Towson, Essex libraries close after employees test positive for coronavirus

The Towson and Essex branches of Baltimore County Public Library are temporarily closed for cleaning after employees at both branches tested positive for the coronavirus.

Two staff members, one at Towson and one at Essex, tested positive, said Erica Palmisano, Baltimore County library spokesperson.

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Book drop-offs and curbside pickup will be halted at the locations until Oct. 17, according to a library announcement. Those services will continue to be available at the library system’s other branches.

Free meals, however, will continue to be available to county residents younger than 18 years old at the Essex branch and eight other library branches. The county library began providing free grab-and-go meals to youngsters last month through a partnership with Kidz Table, a program offered by St. Vincent de Paul of Baltimore.

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Instead of library staff handing out the two breakfast and two lunch meals, Kidz Table staff will distribute food from a marked vehicle at the Essex branch from noon to 2 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Palmisano said.

There will be no contact between Kidz Table staff, food recipients or Essex library staff members, Palmisano said.

“We are so grateful that they are able to volunteer their time so kids who depend on these meals won’t go hungry during the closure," she wrote.

Staff members who worked with those who tested positive for the novel virus are being contacted as the library system coordinates with the Baltimore County Department of Health, according to a news release.

While the contact tracing is progressing, the library system said Essex and Towson branch employees did not come in contact with employees of other branches.

Baltimore County’s library system, like most others in the greater Baltimore area, has chosen not to fully reopen its buildings to the public due to safety concerns amid the pandemic, but has built up its online programming since closing in mid-March.

The Towson branch temporarily shut down services last month after someone who was not employed by the library or handled library materials tested positive for the virus.

County libraries began the first phase of their reopening plan in June with contactless curbside services and book drop-offs, and recently entered the second phase, adding curbside printing to their available in-person services.

“In this phase, we are aligned with what most libraries across the state and country are currently offering,” Palmisano said in a statement.

Anne Arundel and Carroll counties are among the few in the state that have reopened for limited services. Under Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s reopening plan, libraries were among buildings the state gave local jurisdictions permission to authorize reopening under the first phase.

Palmisano said continuing to reopen is based on how safe it will be, how prepared library buildings are and what “sustainable service mechanisms” will be available should another spike in state cases occur.

Baltimore County, aligning with decisions from the Hogan administration, entered the third reopening phase in early September, allowing enclosed and outdoor theaters to reopen and expanding the capacity for retail shops and religious spaces.

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But Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said at the time the county was following Hogan’s lead to prevent confusion among residents; he said, “These steps do not mean we can let our guard down.”

But Palmisano noted that libraries are different from retail establishments when it comes to “closeness and duration of potential contact.”

“Under normal conditions our branches are high-use and high-touch spaces, with many customers visiting each day and interacting closely with staff, as well as many who spend a prolonged period of time inside our buildings,” she wrote in an email.

The library’s next steps will include opening buildings to allow limited, appointment-based computer services, and broadening materials that can be picked up outside the library.

“We appreciate that there is eagerness for us to offer more access, but know that there is also significant concern around taking further steps in reopening," Palmisano wrote.

All library staff members follow strict safety protocols while on property, including mask-wearing, cleaning and sanitizing surfaces throughout the day, regular hand washing and staying 6 feet apart, according to the release.

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