More Freedom, More Risk: Anne Arundel County residents take on critical decisions as county reopens

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman initiated the reopening of many county establishments today under guidelines meant to keep people healthy, while at the same time, get businesses, organizations up and running again. The county executive made the formal announcement of the changes during a press conference today. Pittman, who has been confronted with decisions that could directly impact the number of lives saved and lives lost in the county due to COVID-19, was blunt about what communities are faced with. “This virus is being carried by more people today than it was back in March,” Pittman said. “So we are more vulnerable now than we were then. If we fail to wear masks and distance ourselves from one another, the spike in infections will be larger and faster than what we've seen so far. “As we reopen, we are shifting the responsibility to limit the spread of this virus from government to the public. So when we say we're all in this together, the words have more meaning and urgency at this moment than ever.” The decision to begin reopening was made, he said, based on seven of the 12 goals of reopening being met in the past week. Those goals included the number of hospitalizations and efectiveness of contact tracing among others.Pittman also said progress was also being made on the other five goals. “The big development is that our testing capacity is growing,” he said. “And that combined with our universal contact tracing and case management, that allows us to isolate the virus in ways that we could not just a week ago. The second area of good news is that our businesses and some of their trade associations have invented new ways to operate with very little chance of spreading the virus.” Much of the power of containment and creation of COVID-19-related guidelines was handed to officials on the county level by Maryland's governor when Governor Hogan decided to allow individual counties to move forward at their own pace May 13, Pittman indicated. The county executive said the Maryland transfer of COVID-19-related decision making to the county level was unexpected, Pittman said, and suddenly focused a large amount of public attention on county leadership. “I cannot overstate the impact of that announcement. on social media,” Pittman said, “It was like lighting a match in a room with a gas leak. People now had local targets for their frustration, their own local governments. I like my peers in the big seven counties, consulted with our health officer and made a decision to move forward cautiously.” Pittman said the governor should improve communication with county government, offer more local government representation on state task forces assigned to the pandemic, and also give advanced knowledge to county administrations when making decision that would impact them. “We didn't ask for local decision making authority about the pace of recovery,” Pittman said. “We asked for conversations in advance of the decisions.” Anne Arundel County Public Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman said that because residents would now be moving around more, it was very important that those who had COVID-19 symptoms get tested within 48 hours. This would help prevent the spread of new incidents of the disease. “We have more testing,” he said. “We have enough for everybody to get tested.” The doctor recognized that personal vigilance was required to prevent the spread of the disease, and that’s not easy. "All of this is hard,” he said. “We all want to go back to the way things were, but we can't. This requires us to change how we go about our day. Our old routines aren't suited to our new reality. Every action requires thought, and it's tiring.” He said simple interpersonal acts of kindness and grace of people helping others and themselves, could help residents get through the days ahead. Anne Arundel County Chief of Police Timothy Altomare empathized with the challenges both county officials and county residents were trying to meet during the emergency. He spoke briefly near the end of the press conference. “We are without a doubt in one of the most stressful times in our national history internally,” he said. “People are done being inside. I get it. The county executive gets it. Dr. K gets it. Everything they're doing is aimed at keeping people alive. Every one of us has a 15-year-old cousin, or a 15-month-old niece or nephew or daughter, son, or 105-year old grandmother. When this disease gets to those people it's kills them with alarming frequency. So the decisions that have been made are not grandstanding.” Altomare went on to thank county residents for their compliance with emergency orders. An email from the department's director of media relations, Sergeant Jacklyn Davis Friday, May 29 reported there had been 914 emergency order violation calls to the department since the orders had been enacted. “If we see a violation we explain the orders, the reason behind the orders and ask for compliance,” she wrote “To date we have not had to arrest anyone solely for an emergency order violation.”