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'We pay now or we pay later': AA County executive considers rolling back reopenings as COVID-19 cases rise

Posted at 11:19 PM, Jul 20, 2020

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, Md. — As COVID-19 cases surge in Anne Arundel County, officials are exploring ways to stop the spread of the virus from getting worse, including possibly rolling back some reopenings.

On Monday, the county surpassed more than 6,000 total cases. It also reported more than 200 deaths.

Three days ago, the county reported more than 89 new cases, which was the largest single day increase in more than a month.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said cases began rising in early July, two weeks after the state decided to reopen more businesses such as indoor dining at restaurants and bars as a part of phase 2 in the state's recovery plan.

"Anything we can do to slow the spread without putting people out of work we have to weigh the cost, the economic cost and the cost of people losing their jobs.”

During an emergency virtual town hall addressing the spike in cases, Pittman said the county's positivity rate remains below the state's average, but added hospitalization are up, which is concerning.

"If behavior, continues the way it has continued, the way it has been during the month of July, we are likely to see a surge that is going to eventually get us to a point where our hospitals are overwhelmed," he said.

He said the last thing he wants to do is shut businesses down again. With virus numbers rising, he said it's something the county has to consider.

"We really are in a difficult position in having to make some difficult choices," Pittman said. "It's sort of a we pay now or pay later."

Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, who is the Anne Arundel County Health Officer, said some businesses aren't following public health orders, which is contributing to the uptick in cases. Instead of closing businesses, the county could decide to ramp up enforcement, he said.

Pittman asked Dr. Kalyanaraman if there would be a fine on the first infraction and closures on the second, in which he replied, "that’s what we are discussing right now. We are losing time right now.”

On July 10, a countywide mask mandate went into effect, requiring all residents to--if they can't social distance --wear masks when outdoors. Dr. Kalyanaraman urged people to follow the mandate, adding it's an important weapon in the battle against the virus.

"If everybody wore a mask, while they were out and couldn't distance, we would be in such a different position," he said. "I don't know how else to beg. I will beg...please wear a mask for yourself but also for others.

Businesses in the county are currently get a warning first and a fine after their second infraction, Pittman said.

Max Schlaich, a manager at the Federal House Bar and Grille in Annapolis, said it would be a mistake closing down businesses again. He said he supports harsher penalties for businesses not following the rules.

“I think there’s been a few bars, few gyms throughout the state that have not been following any of those policies and causing this spike," said Schlaich.

While the city of Annapolis has followed the county's lead on restrictions, it could choose to change course if Anne Arundel rolls back re-openings.

Pittman said he will meet with the county's recovery work group on Thursday and also will consult with the state on next steps. He said a decision could be made a soon as Thursday.

“If we want to keep our people working and our businesses operating, we need to keep our numbers down period," he said.