Updated: May 28, 2020
The seventh Anne Arundel County COVID-19 Virtual Town Hall took place Tuesday April 29. The format of the weekly series diverged from its usual studio presentation to a Zoom teleconference that attracted 2,800 viewers according to Facebook.
County Executive Steuart Pittman characterized the new format more as a “conversation” than a presentation.Pittman and Public Health Officer Nilesh Kalyanaraman spoke with U.S. Congressman John Sarbanes (D-3rd District) in the first half hour. In the second half hour, Deputy Director of Recreation and Parks Jessica Leys, and Kirkland Murray, president of Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation, spoke.
The teleconference got of to a glitchy start, with Pittman’s live-feed breaking up on two separate occasions during the event. The county executive speculated on a cause that may hit close to home for many teleworkers these days.
“It might be my kids are using too much of my internet,” he said.
The live feed improved, and the county’s COVID-19 discussion went on. Highlights included:
The county’s public health officer, Nilesh Kalyanaraman told the Congressman Sarbanes that the plight of many in the county requires a long-term, “security net”. He said some residents the county has encountered were facing food access and housing issues, especially during isolation or quarantine.
“So we have to deal with those types of issues,” Kalyanaram said. “In order to be successful over the longer term, that security net really needs to be in place for us to be able to continue this work. Because that's the real pivot. We talked about opening up. We have to be able to test on demand the same day, people have symptoms, and our testing capacity isn't there yet. And we need to be able to provide the support to keep people in isolation or quarantine.”
Kalyanaraman said Anne Arundel County expected to be getting additional test kits within one or two weeks from the half million test kits Governor Hogan procured from South Korea recently.The county is now doing testing five days a week at drive-thru and walk-up locations.Later in the conversation Pittman acknowledged getting enough test kits has been a problem. There were three occasions that plans for drive-thru testing locations had to be scrapped because of a lack of tests, he said.
The work of tracing those who have been in contact with infected patients is currently done by over 40 workers in the health department. They have contact-traced every COVID-19 case that has been confirmed in the county.
The local area continue to suffer from a PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) shortage including masks. Sarbanes blamed the leadership of President Trump.
“The administration didn’t move fast enough,” he said.
May 7 will mark the county’s first virtual hiring event said, Anne Arundel Workforce Development president Kirkland Murray. Companies that are hiring include national drugstore and restaurant chains as well as local grocers, a security firm, a senior living center and Amazon.
“We have local businesses here in Anne Arundel County that are hiring,” he said. “We have several businesses.”
Murray said that 36,674 people in the county have registered to receive unemployment insurance. He said weekly numbers had been going down recently, but those figures were expected to go up soon with new layoffs. A major county restaurant chain has had to lay off a significant number of employees this week, he noted. Pittman recognized the state’s unemployment insurance website had been experiencing problems and applicants were having trouble filing, which could be another reasons claims would go up.
Recreation and Parks
Deputy Director of Anne Arundel County Recreation and Parks Department, Jennifer Leys, said it was “All hands on deck” for her department’s employees. She said over 80,000 people had visited county parks in the last week—a 30 percent increase over this time last year. She said visiting county parks can help residents relieve stress, lift their spirits, and improve their resilience. She said she regretted the need to cancel spring sports seasons held at park facilities.
“That was one of the toughest decisions to make as a department,” she said.
County Executive Pittman named the expected effort to help Anne Arundel County recover from the pandemic once shutdown restrictions are relaxed. He called it the “Build Back Better” initiative.
“We’re going to have every department engaged in that process,” he said.