The county executives from Prince George’s, Harford, and Baltimore counties briefed the General Assembly’s Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup on their coronavirus response efforts and continuing needs.
The county executives all shared updates on testing sites and supplies, steps taken to programs developed to help small businesses, and protections put into place for their first responders, essential employees, and special populations. But each also raised important issues specific to their counties and counties as a whole.
Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks discussed response operations in the county with the largest number of confirmed cases in Maryland. Alsobrooks updates focused on the challenges and success of protecting a population that is racially and economically diverse as well as having many residents without insurance. The county is finding that men, particularly black men, are dying at higher rates that the rest of the population because they are waiting too long to seek treatment and are dying at home. In response to this the county has been working on messaging to encourage people to seek treatment sooner.
Barry Glassman, Harford County Executive, provided perspective from a smaller more rural county. One particularly important issue Glassman raised was the distribution of federal CARES funding for counties under 500,000 in population. Counties with larger populations receive the money directly from the Federal government. While those under 500,000 receive their money through the State government. The Department of Budget and Management (DBM) is channeling this funding through local health departments rather than directly to the local governments which overwhelms those departments who are not staffed or resourced to handle such grant management and creates unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. This is an issue MACo has also raised with DBM. Glassman also encouraged the group to push for future stimulus programs that would require expansion of broadband in rural and suburban areas so that children have the resources they need to participate in distance learning while schools are closed.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, Jr. discussed how the county’s emergency operation center, usually only open for 3-4 days at a stretch during snowstorms, has been opened for 37 days with no closure in mind. A strong supporter of data driven work, Olszewski has transitioned the county stat system he established to focusing on COVID-19 stat. The county dashboards provide internal data such as availability of PPE and employee attendance, as well as external data that is used to inform the community of important COVID related information. He also shared that the county faces future budget write downs and hiring freezes while noting the need for more funding from the federal government that provides greater relief and flexibility for county governments. An issue that MACo has been supporting through the National Association of Counties (NACo).
Also, on the agenda were briefings by Dr. Mohan Suntha from the University of Maryland Medical System and Dr. Steven Evans from MedStar Health on the status and work of the respective hospital systems they were there to represent.
The Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Work Group is co-chaired by President Ferguson and Speaker Jones and includes 22 House and Senate members. Their charge is to monitor the effects COVID-19 in Maryland and to support the Governor and Department of Health and advise the General Assembly on any actions they should be taking.
The meeting was streamed live and a recording may be found on YouTube.
Prior Coverage from Conduit Street: