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With Cases And Hospitalizations Declining, Pittman Defends Anne Arundel County Mask Mandate In Face Of Lawsuit

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) -- With cases and hospitalizations declining, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman Jr. defended the county's indoor mask mandate in the face of a lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order to block the policy.

Even though the Omicron-driven surge in cases is waning, 39 Anne Arundel County residents have died from the virus in the last week, the highest seven-day total since the start of the pandemic, according to Pittman and county health officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman.

"My message to the residents of Anne Arundel County is we're better than this," Pittman said of the suit. "We do care about one another, I know that you care about your neighbors."

While hospitals in the county are still operating under crisis standards of care, the number of new cases and hospital patients is plateauing, said Kalyanaraman. There are currently 230 residents hospitalized with COVID-19.

"That's exactly what we wanted to see with the mask mandate," he said. "It's exactly what is needed to decrease the spread and give our hospitals a chance to catch up to provide care to folks who need it."

On Jan. 7, Kalyanaraman issued a public safety order reinstating a mask mandate in the jurisdiction hours after the county council voted not to renew the policy. The council voted 4-3 in favor of keeping the mandate, but a supermajority was needed for the bill to pass.

The order requires masking in both indoor and outdoor public areas where distancing isn't possible.

According to court records, the lawsuit asking for a temporary restraining order was filed on Jan. 14 by attorney Charles J. Muskin. Pasquale Carannante and James Zimmerer are listed as the plaintiffs. Both are business owners in the county, Pittman said.

Pittman, Kalyanaraman and the county are listed as defendants.  Lawyers from the Maryland Attorney General's Office will appear in court, rather than county attorneys, since the health order was issued under a state law. A judge is expected to rule on the temporary restraining order Wednesday.

"I don't believe that any judge is likely to grant a temporary restraining order under these conditions," the county executive said, "given the fact that our health officer made this public health order using the same state law that he has used twice before in this pandemic, both April and July, and the same state law that gives all local jurisdictions the authority to use public health orders to protect the public health."

The order is set to expire at the end of January, and if the current the current trends hold, Kalyanaraman said he doesn't anticipate extending the mask mandate beyond that.

As the county approaches 900 deaths from COVID-19, Pittman and Kalyanaraman urged residents to get vaccinated and boosted against the virus.

"With these kinds of numbers of deaths in our county, it's my responsibility and it's your responsibility to do anything that we can to prevent them," Pittman said.

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