Anne Arundel Co. health officer issues mask requirement after council votes against mandate

The Anne Arundel County, Maryland, health officer issued a public safety order requiring residents to wear masks in indoor public settings after the County Council voted against implementing a mask mandate or extending the county’s COVID-related state of emergency earlier Friday.

Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman issued the order after the council voted 4-3 against implementing the mask mandate.

County Executive Steuart Pittman had issued an executive order mandating masks on Dec. 31, 2021, but that was set to expire Friday at noon unless the county council extended it.

During a more than six-hour long public hearing, Kalyanaraman said a mask mandate would help mitigate the spread of the virus and help local hospitals.

“Our hospitals, for the first time, declared that they have put in place crisis standards of care,” Kalyanaraman said, adding that COVID-19 cases and related hospitalizations may not peak in the county until mid to late February.

Councilman Nathan Volke voted against the mask mandate, saying he struggled to understand how a mask mandate would help when other nearby areas with such mandates do not seem to be fairing any better than Anne Arundel County.

“Specifically I’m thinking of Prince George’s County, Baltimore City, even Montgomery County has had theirs, I believe, since November. They’re all tracking on the same trajectory in terms of case rates and positivity and hospitalizations,” Volke said.

Kalyanaraman rebutted that argument in a news release announcing the mask order.

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“Masks and masking requirements have been demonstrated to be effective at decreasing COVID transmission and hospitalizations,” Kalyanaraman said. “When the collective impact of individual decisions ripples out, we have to take collective action. That’s why a time limited mask requirement is essential in decreasing the crushing burden we are placing on our hospitals.”

Pittman said he supported the decision to impose a mask order.

“Dr. Kalyanaraman’s decision to issue this order is a necessary step to protect the health and safety of all Anne Arundel County residents,” Pittman said in a statement. “Wear the damn masks. Get vaccinated and boosted. Take these steps because they protect you and the people around you – the doctors and nurses overwhelmed by hospitalizations, the small business owner worried about customers staying away because of COVID transmission, the parents trying to protect their children from this deadly disease.”

The new mask order went into effect immediately and is set to expire on Jan. 31. Under the order, all residents over the age of 2 must wear a mask when in indoor public spaces or outdoors when physical distancing is not possible.

Many county residents spoke at the meeting earlier Friday, and most of the comments were against the mask mandate.

Rebecca Robison, who lives in Arnold, Maryland, told the council “adults do not need to be told what to do, people are down with government overreach and hypocrisy.”

Tina Bellfort said “enough is enough, we are through with the micromanagement and psychological manipulation that has come from our elected officials.”

Even after the council had voted down the measures, council chairwoman Lisa Rodvien — who voted in favor of the mandate — asked people to wear masks anyway.

“Even those of you who believe so strong in freedom that you shouldn’t have to follow a mandate, I hope that you are still kind people that care about your neighbors,” Rodvien said.

That sentiment was echoed by council member Allison Pickard.

“Please do this for our hospitals, for your neighbors, for our small businesses, for our students — wear the damn mask.”

Most Maryland counties in the D.C. area have a mask mandate in place, and Gov. Larry Hogan announced a 30-day state of emergency as cases surged in the region.

Zeke Hartner

Zeke Hartner is a digital writer/editor who has been with WTOP since 2017. He is a graduate of North Carolina State University’s Political Science program and an avid news junkie.

Kyle Cooper

Weekend and fill-in anchor Kyle Cooper has been with WTOP since 1992. Over those 25 years, Kyle has worked as a street reporter, editor and anchor. Prior to WTOP, Kyle worked at several radio stations in Indiana and at the Indianapolis Star Newspaper.

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