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Back To Masks In Anne Arundel Co., Annapolis Government Buildings; Employees Must Choose Vaccination or Testing and Face Unpaid Suspension For Breaking Mandate

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- Masks must be worn in all Anne Arundel County government buildings including libraries and senior centers starting Thursday.

The city of Annapolis also decided to align with the county.

It comes as the county's case rate for every 100,000 people has risen 12 times above what it was one month ago.

"The last thing we wanted to do was get COVID on the job and take it home to our family members," said Joe Addivinola, president of the firefighters' union.

County Executive Steuart Pittman said he does not have the authority to mandate mask-wearing in private buildings. That has to come from Gov. Larry Hogan.

"Taking it at the county level in county buildings is a great first step and hopefully sets an example for other private institutions where the public gathers," Pittman said at a news conference Monday morning.

The Democrat said this follows new masking guidance from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the county health officer, said 30% of all new cases are among fully vaccinated people.

Some said they are already wearing masks.

"It will probably help a lot to stop the spread and help us get our lives back to normal," said county resident Jennifer Serna.

Serna said she is seeing more masks at grocery stores and other indoor places: "A lot of people have been using their masks ever since the cases have been going up again."

However, County Councilman Nathan Volke said he believes the county executive's mask mandate is an overreach.

"He should just allow people to get back to living their lives and allow them to exercise freedom," said Volke, a Republican. "I think that's one of the big things with this: No one is telling people they can't wear a mask. If you feel more comfortable, absolutely go wear the mask."

Anne Arundel County will also require all county employees to either be vaccinated or get tested weekly, and the consequences for not doing so could include suspension without pay.

Matt Power, the county's chief administrative officer, describes the policy as "business as usual with a mask."  He said suspension is part of "progressive discipline" for those who do not wear masks.

The requirement would go into effect Sept. 13 in the county. Annapolis will give employees until Oct. 1.

"The county executive has not been shy at all about doing things that are legally questionable and putting the county on the hook for it," Volke said.

As for those who refuse to wear masks in public buildings, Power said, "Our best option is to politely escort those people out of our facilities."

For the latest information on coronavirus go to the Maryland Health Department's website or call 211. You can find all of WJZ's coverage on coronavirus in Maryland here.

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