Annapolis, MD (Arundel.News & AAFA)- Rising COVID-19 case rates and the availability of test kits, vaccines, and contact tracing in the county were all major talking points during Tuesday's weekly press call with Anne Arundel County officials. According to the County Health Officer, Nilesh Kalyanaraman, M.D., the case rate in Anne Arundel County is four times higher than it was merely three weeks ago.
During the call with reporters, Steuart Pittman also discussed potential plans to re-institute a State of Emergency in Anne Arundel County. Pittman said that while he cannot mandate the use of masks without approval from the County Council, he has considered the implications of beginning a 7 day State of Emergency without the Council's nod. Although Pittman says at this time he does not plan to begin a 7 day State Of Emergency, he announced that the County Council would debate whether to extend his emergency powers in the next Council meeting scheduled for Monday January 3rd, 2022. If those emergency powers are reinstated, it would mean the Executive would have the legal authority to declare a state of Emergency period longer than the current 7 day period allowable by the county's charter.
Arundel.News reached out to each of the seven Council members for comment on the possibility of granting those extended emergency powers to Executive Pittman. Two members responded that they are in support of masking mandates. Council Chair Lisa Rodvien, District 6 tells Arundel.News:
"Given that our hospitals' staffing was already stretched thin and now some workers cannot come to work as they have tested positive for COVID, I support an indoor mask mandate to help stop the spread. First responders are reporting hours wait time before patients can be admitted to the ER. In some cases ambulances are being diverted to Baltimore, Washington, DC, and even Pennsylvania. The situation is already very serious and the trajectory is still a steep climb."
Vice Chair, Councilman Andrew Pruski of District 4, confirmed that discussions over the implications of the spike in case rates will take place with local health officials during the January 3rd meeting:
"I am actually receiving numerous emails requesting an immediate mask mandate similar to other adjacent counties. I fully support a temporary mandate for masks due to the significant rise in COVID cases. I applaud the super majority of businesses that are already requiring masks. On Monday night we will discuss this and other actions with medical professionals that oversee the hospitals and public health."
Councilwoman Jessica Haire of District 7 responded that Tuesday's press announcement was the first time she became aware of any plans to extend the Executive's powers: "The press conference was the first I’ve heard of any proposed extension of emergency powers or discussion of the same at the Council. If there is a piece of legislation coming Monday from the County Executive or a member of the Council majority, it has not been shared with me." Councilman Nathan Volke of District 3 says he is unaware of any plans to declare a State of Emergency, and shared the following from the County's Charter in regards to any proposed extensions of emergency powers:
From the AACO Code: "§ 1-6-102. Proclamation.
Whenever the County Executive finds that a civil emergency exists, the Executive shall proclaim in writing its existence, including the basis therefor.
(1985 Code, Art. 2, § 8-102) (Bill No. 71-16)
§ 1-6-104. Duration.
A proclamation of a civil emergency or an executive order may not be effective for more than seven days unless authorized by ordinance enacted by the County Council. And from the County Charter: Sec. 307(f) Procedure for Passing Emergency Ordinances. Upon introduction by bill of an emergency ordinance the Chairman shall schedule a public hearing thereon which shall not be less than three days after its introduction. The public hearing may but need not be held on a legislative session-day and may be adjourned from time to time. After public hearing the bill may be passed with or without amendment on a legislative session-day by an affirmative vote of five members of the County Council."
Amanda Fiedler, the Councilwoman representing District 5, also confirmed to Arundel.News that she first heard about the Executive's plan to extend a State of Emergency today:
"I can't comment on legislation I have not seen. I only became aware of the potential of legislation through the County Executives press conference. If he has worked on legislation with other members of the council, he has not included me in that communication or conversation."
Council members Sarah F. Lacey of District 1 and Allison Pickard of District 2 did not offer comment as of our publishing deadline.
Arundel.News contacted County Executive Pittman's office this afternoon for clarification after receiving those responses from the Council members. We inquired with the Director of Communications for the Executive, Jeff Amoros, on whether Pittman is seeking extended emergency powers to allow for a mask mandate, or if those powers would be used to issue a State of Emergency period of longer than 7 days in Anne Arundel County ? As of the time of this report our questions remain unanswered.