In his State of the County address Wednesday evening, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced new coronavirus measures for the county more than seven months after the county saw its first confirmed case.
Ball appeared in a prerecorded, 50-minute video on Facebook and YouTube to update county residents on the work his administration has done in the past year. The remarks were largely related to the pandemic.
One of the initiatives Ball announced was the HoCo RISE Collaborative. This program will have five independent workgroups that will provide recommendations to the administration in five areas in terms of coronavirus recovery: jobs and the economy, workforce development, health care, quality of life and government response. Former County Executive Ken Ulman will chair the collaborative.
Ball also said the county would launch a governmentwide serology effort to help county employees determine whether or not they have antibodies for COVID-19. The serology tests check blood by looking for the antibodies, which may indicate if someone had a past infection with the virus that causes COVID-19, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. Ball said these tests will provide a “better understanding of the scope of potential initial spread of the virus” from the spring.
“We know the science continues to evolve, and we want to ensure that we understand all facets of this pandemic and are able to respond effectively,” Ball said.
When he spoke about pandemic recovery, Ball emphasized that the affluence of the county does not immunize it from challenges in the process.
“The county has fared better than anticipated to date financially, due in part to cost-saving measures taken as early as April,” Ball said. “With that said, our fiscal outlook remains challenging, and is largely dependent on certain factors — such as the duration of the pandemic, pace of economic recovery and whether there will be additional and robust federal aid.”
Ball also said that without immediate relief from the federal government, the state is projecting a revenue shortfall of $100 million in fiscal 2021.
“This statewide budget reality will significantly impact Howard County’s financial future,” he said.
Ball also reviewed how the county has spent some of the nearly $57 million in federal CARES Act funding for COVID-19 expenses and community relief programs.
More than $28 million went to the Howard County Health Department, while $5.7 million went to the HoCo Rise business grant program that helped small retailers, restaurants, farms, local hotels, the arts community and child care. About $3.58 million was allocated to provide rental assistance for up to three months to more than 800 families facing lost income due to the pandemic.
Earlier this month, the administration gave $1.5 million to 40 nonprofits through the Rise to the Challenge grant program.
During a news conference last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan criticized jurisdictions that have yet to allocate all of the federal CARES Act funding the state sent them. The money is required to be spent by the end of the calendar year, or it must be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
Ball said this week that, despite “delays” in receiving the funds from the state, Howard plans to spend the total allocation by the Dec. 30 deadline.
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Howard, which has a population under 500,000 and qualifies as one of Maryland’s smaller counties, did not receive its $56.8 million in CARES funds until mid-June.