Plea From Concerned County Leaders as Hospitals Fill Up: Wear Masks, Avoid Gatherings

Maryland's “Big 8” leaders — Baltimore’s mayor and the executives from the seven largest counties — held a joint briefing Wednesday to encourage residents to follow public health guidance as COVID cases surge across the state. Screenshot.

With hospitals filling up rapidly and COVID-19 infection rates soaring, the leaders of Maryland’s largest counties and Baltimore City on Wednesday pleaded with residents to wear masks and avoid gathering with people from outside their immediate families.

The “Big 8” leaders — Baltimore’s new mayor, Brandon Scott (D), and the executives from the seven largest counties — made their plea during a 70-minute online press conference. They were joined by several of the state’s most prominent public health officials.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman (D), who spearheaded the event, acknowledged occasional friction with Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) since the pandemic began. But the group requested no changes in the state’s approach to the virus.

Some leaders have recently announced new steps to slow the spread of the coronavirus, and others indicated they would do so in the coming days.

“This virus continues to ravage every community across Maryland,” said Baltimore County Executive Johnny A. Olszewski (D). “Right now we’re seeing astronomical case rates, from Western Maryland to the Eastern Shore, and everywhere in between. So let’s all step up and do our part, so we can finish this journey [and] crush this curve.”

Scott, in his first full day on the job following his inauguration on Tuesday, said COVID deaths in the city are up 243% in the previous four weeks. Baltimore’s positivity rate is up 85% during the same period.

“Our projections show that our hospitals will be overwhelmed if we do not act,” he said. “The weather’s getting colder. The holidays are coming up. And we cannot let up now.”

The post-Thanksgiving wave of new infections that medical experts feared has hit the state.

The Maryland Department of Health reported a record number of hospital patients on Wednesday, 1,715. That total eclipsed the 1,711 people who were getting care on April 30.

The state’s rolling case rate now stands at 44 infections for every 100,000 people, four times what it was in late October. And the state has reported 2,000 or more new cases every day this month.

Tom Inglesby, the Director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said Maryland is in “a dangerous place.”

With the first doses of COVID vaccine being given in Britain this week and the state making preparations for its distribution program, public health experts said there is reason for optimism. But they urged Marylanders to follow the basic advice they’ve been hammering for months.

“The COVID-19 vaccines are indeed, likely, the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Dr. Peter Hill, senior vice president of medical affairs for the Johns Hopkins Health System.

“I think what’s important is that we ensure that the tunnel doesn’t collapse before we get there.”

Scott announced an end to all restaurant dining — indoor and outdoor — effective Friday at 5pm. Carryout and delivery service remain available.

His executive order also caps retail activity, religious gatherings, gyms, malls, casinos and museums to 25% capacity.

Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) has proposed eliminating indoor dining as well. His proposal, which is subject to approval by the county council, would take effect on Tuesday.

The proposed order would also impose tighter restrictions on retail activity, religious gatherings and nonprofessional sports.

Several county leaders — including Elrich and Prince George’s Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) — said family gatherings remain the primary source of new infections.

“Personal gatherings are very, very dangerous,” said Alsobrooks. “We are asking all of our residents to continue to work with us. We are urging you to make those responsible decisions about gathering.”

Policing family gatherings “is a tough thing to do,” Elrich said. “We’ve done it a couple times and we’re going to keep doing it, because we just can’t afford to have these things go on, when at the end of the day it jeopardizes everybody’s public safety,” he added.

Alsobrooks, Pittman and Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner (D) will make COVID announcements on Thursday, as will Hogan.

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