By Devon Douglas
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski on Monday announced an increase of COVID-19 cases that may force new restrictions for large gatherings.
Olszewski stressed that the fight to contain the Coronavirus pandemic also spurred him to commit $11.5 million in CARES Act funding to provide supplies directly to Baltimore County Public School principals to help them prepare for eventual reopening of schools.
“As the weather turns colder and people are spending more time indoors, it is critical for residents to recommit to social distancing and wearing masks – two simple actions that can significantly reduce the spread of the virus,” the county executive said.
Olszewski and Gregory Wm. Branch, director of the Department of Health and Human Services, held a press conference outside of the Towson Court House
COVID-19 infections have increased nationwide. Olszewski said the county’s rate of cases has increased by 90.7 percent from Oct. 23 to Nov. 7, with 20.4 cases per 100,000 residents. Over the same period, the positivity rate increased by 71.4 percent, to 4.8 percent. Hospitalizations have increased by 153 percent from Oct. 7 to Nov. 7.
“The virus has proven that it is violent and relentless,” Olszewski said. “We each have a responsibility to reduce its spread.”
Baltimore County will continue to enforce safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask and social distancing at restaurants, bars and other establishments. He said that the County’s Social Distancing Task Force held 5,200 inspections of establishments.
“If we fail to take responsibility for our own actions, we are risking our own health and the health of our family, our neighbors, and everyone in our community,” Olszewski said.
Olszewski said public health efforts to reduce the virus should be established statewide. Allegany County has a rate of 52.1 positive cases per 100,000. Somerset County has a rate of 28.4 cases per 100,000 and Dorchester County has 16.6 cases per 100,000, said Olszewski.
Bloomberg news announced Monday that drug maker Pfizer has developed a new vaccine for the coronavirus that was more than 90 percent effective in preventing the disease among trial volunteers who had no evidence of prior coronavirus infection.
Despite news of a vaccine, Branch said that even with the vaccine it will be at least a year before everyone is eligible for vaccinations.
“We must remain vigilant, said Branch. “Until the vaccine is ready, everyone needs a flu shot and then a booster shot.”
Olszewski said that if residents don’t take the virus seriously then restrictions must be imposed.
“All of us want this pandemic to be over but the frustration to our lives cannot stop us from doing the difficult but necessary work of slowing the spread,” Olszewski said.
At county schools, Olszewski said officials will leverage existing supplier relationships to secure and distribute personal protective equipment, cleaning and sanitizing products, air purifiers, and other equipment or supplies that will help ensure that school buildings are safe for students, educators and staff. Principals will be able to acquire supplies directly form the county, up to $100 per students.
In the latest effort to support Baltimore County’s restaurant industry, Olszewski also announced new plans to complement Baltimore County’s existing restaurant grants using additional funds provided by the state. The county will distribute these Restaurant and Food Service Grants in two phases, he said.
In the first phase, establishments that already have received grants of up to $15,000 will be eligible for an additional $15,000 to help ensure the safety of customers. Eligible establishments will be contacted directly by the county’s Department of Economic and Workforce Development in the coming days, he said.
The second phase will give grants of up to $30,000 to restaurants that had not received grants previously. Applications for these Restaurant and Food Service Grants will begin on Monday through an application portal that will be available in the coming days.