TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) -- Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski declared a local state of emergency Monday to shore up the county's COVID-19 response and announced plans to introduce an indoor mask mandate.
The emergency declaration is intended to give Baltimore County more flexibility in the way it protects residents from COVID-19, while making it easier for the county to get whatever support it needs from the state and federal governments.
Starting on Wednesday, the county will require everyone ages 5 and older to wear masks in indoor public spaces. The county joins Howard, Montgomery and Prince George's counties, along with Baltimore City, which have similar mandates.
Even though vaccines have been shown to keep people alive and out of the hospital, Olszewski said, the county was compelled to issue the mask mandate because "too many selfish people have chosen not to get vaccinated."
"Baltimore County must now take this additional action to help limit the spread of COVID-19, reduce the burden on our healthcare system, and save lives," the county executive said in part.
Besides the state of emergency and mask mandate, Olszewski also said the county is setting aside American Rescue Plan (ARP) funding to buy 100,000 at-home test kits it will distribute to county residents.
The measures come as Maryland has seen its COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations surge in recent weeks. The state saw more than 25,000 new cases over the holiday weekend and hospitalizations have topped 1,700.
In Baltimore County, hospitalizations have risen by 188% since Nov. 26. As of Monday, county hospitals had only 13 staffed ICU beds available.
Under the mask mandate, which runs from Wednesday until Jan. 31, everyone ages 5 and up is require to wear a mask in indoor public spaces, such as restaurants, retail stores and houses of worship.
The mandate does not apply under select circumstances, such as someone dining at a restaurant or getting dental work done, or if someone cannot wear a mask due to a documented medical condition.
Olszewski said he has also directed to the health department to expand access to testing by launching a large-scale testing clinic. Details about the site's hours and location weren't released.
While more than three-quarters of county residents have gotten at least one dose of the vaccine, officials are urging the rest of the county to get vaccinated and get their booster shots.
"We continue to encourage everyone to get tested if you are symptomatic or have had close contact with a confirmed case; get vaccinated if you have not already done so, and get boosted when eligible," County Health Officer Dr. Gregory Branch said.
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