A Maryland county health officer has issued a public safety order requiring residents to wear masks indoors despite elected officials voting against extending an existing mandate and COVID-related emergency declaration.
The Anne Arundel County Council voted 4-3 against implementing the mandate following a more than six-hour-long hearing on Friday before county health officer Dr. Nilesh Kalynaraman unilaterally issued the order.
“Our hospitals, for the first time, declared that they have put in place crisis standards of care,” Dr. Kalyanaraman said according to WTOP News. He estimated that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations would not peak until February.
Under the order issued Friday, all residents over the age of 2 are required to wear masks while in indoor public spaces and outdoors when distancing is not possible. The order is set to expire at the end of the month.
A standing executive order requiring indoor masks issued last month was set to expire Friday at noon unless extended by the county council.
County officials voting against extending the order said Anne Arundel County has faired any better than surrounding communities in weathering the latest spike in COVID-19 cases.
“Specifically I’m thinking of Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, even Montgomery County has had theirs, I believe, since November. They’re all tracking on the same trajectory in terms of case rates and positivity and hospitalizations,” Councilman Nathan Volke said.
Dr. Kalyanaraman pushed back on the argument and said mask requirements are an effective means of decreasing the spread.
“When the collective impact of individual decisions ripples out, we have to take collective action. That’s why a time limited mask requirement is essential in decreasing the crushing burden we are placing on our hospitals,” he said.
County Executive Steuart Pittman, who issued the order mandating indoor masks last month, stood behind Dr. Kalyanaraman’s order Friday.
“Dr. Kalyanaraman’s decision to issue this order is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of all Anne Arundel County residents,” Mr. Pittman said in a statement. “Wear the damn masks. Get vaccinated and boosted. Take these steps because they protect you and the people around you – the doctors and nurses overwhelmed by hospitalizations, the small business owner worried about customers staying away because of COVID transmission, the parents trying to protect their children from this deadly disease.”
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan earlier in the week announced a 30-day state of emergency in the state in response to a surge in cases. Mr. Hogan said health officials were projecting that COVID-19-related hospitalizations could climb to more than 5,000, a more than 250% increase above previous highs in the state.
• Joseph Clark can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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