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MILLERSVILLE, MD — Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman launched three initiatives Thursday to help locals weather the coronavirus fallout. The programs will help residents pay bills, find resources and cope with virus-related deaths.
The first initiative looks to help struggling families pay their water bills. Pittman announced the relief effort at a press conference in front of a Millersville water tower.
About 20,000 county residents are behind on their water payements, Pittman said. That’s up 19,000 from this time last year, the county executive added.
“If we don’t help these people, they could not only have their water cut off, but the liens that we are required to put on their homes, and the subsequent foreclosure proceedings could leave them homeless,” Pittman said in a press release after the conference. “Helping to pay their bills is essential.”
Pittman recently bought time for these families by signing Executive Order 30. The mandate prohibited water shutoffs for nonpayment until Nov. 16.
The county will mail applications for the Water Bill Relief Program to residents who qualify. Interested applicants may also dial (410) 222-1144 or email [email protected] TTY users should call Maryland Relay at 7-1-1.
Pittman also announced the COVID Care Coordination Program, an extension of the Department of Health’s contract tracing. The program’s case managers will reach out to people who test positive for coronavirus. The bilingual workers can help find food, shelter, housing, commodities and financial assistance.
The final initiative addresses the pandemic’s effects on mental health. This COVID Recovery and Grief Support Program will offer counseling to families who lost a loved one to coronavirus.
The extra money will bolster the mental health warm line, which has answered more calls during the pandemic. Residents can reach the line at (410) 768-5522.
“What we are experiencing is an increase in the number of individuals who are seeking additional mental health support, many of whom have financial barriers,” said Adrienne Mickler, the executive director of the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency. “These funds will support urgent care appointments and follow up treatment.”
CARES Act Check-In
Pittman will fund his $2 million plan with money from the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, better known as the CARES Act. Anne Arundel County got $101.1 million in CARES Act funding after Congress passed the stimulus package in March.
The county executive’s announcement came hours before Gov. Larry Hogan announced his $250 million plan to keep Maryland’s small businesses afloat. Hogan stressed the importance of spending CARES Act money soon, noting that it expires at the end of the year.
Pittman said that Anne Arundel County has about $25 million to $30 million left in its CARES Act account. Residents can track the county’s coronavirus spending and find resources at this link. The website shows that Anne Arundel has about $52.2 million of CARES Act money remaining, but Pittman noted that the portal needs to be updated with the county’s latest expenditures.
“Water bill assistance, grief counseling, and services for families recovering from the virus are just the latest new programs,” Pittman said. “We continue our food distribution, eviction prevention, cash assistance, and business assistance efforts as well.”
The most recent data clock Anne Arundel County’s positivity rate at 3.29 percent, which is 0.19 percent higher than the statewide clip. The county’s positivity rate hit its pandemic low of 2.29 percent on Aug. 16. After jumping to a recent high of 4.45 percent on Sept. 7, the rate has slowly declined.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says municipalities should aim to keep their positivity rate below 5 percent. When counties hit this mark, Maryland health leaders say it is likely safe to return to schools for hybrid instruction.
Though Anne Arundel met the positivity rate recommendation, school officials still started the fall semester with online classes for most students. AACPS previously committed to distance learning for the first two marking periods.
The state challenged AACPS’s initial decision to remain online. Hogan recently urged schools to start considering a hybrid model. AACPS responded by reaffirming its immediate commitment to remote learning while also speeding up its plans for eventual hybrid classes.
Some students, like those in special education and English language programs, started their year under the hybrid model. Seeing their success, Pittman teased a universal hybrid strategy.
The Board of Education eventually decided to offer hybrid classes to willing elementary schoolers. Pittman initially supported the move, but rising coronavirus metrics forced him to reconsider.
“Coronavirus and the recession it has caused directly impact the most vulnerable households in our county,” Pittman said. “Each week we observe more trauma and government must continue the hard work of protecting our residents.”
Anne Arundel County has been under the 5 percent benchmark since June 22. The local positivity rate topped out at 28.24 percent on April 16.
While the jurisdiction meets the percent positive guideline, it does not meet the state’s infections-per-capita marker. State health officials say municipalities should aim for a case rate of less than five new coronavirus cases-per-day per 100,000 people.
Anne Arundel County’s case rate has aligned with Maryland’s trends. It hit an initial peak of 13.84 on June 3 before receding to its minimum of 3.53 by June 26.
A second surge spiked Anne Arundel’s case rate to its overall peak of 14.26 on Aug. 2. Infections quelled by Aug. 20, dropping the case rate to 6.93.
After a brief downturn, another wave accelerated the county’s infections. The case rate hiked to 12.78 on Sept. 18. Nine days later, the case rate fell to 8.56.
The case rate has since returned to 11.02. That’s double the state’s goal.
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The county must average less than 28.96 new coronavirus infections-per-day over a rolling week to meet the state’s per-capita suggestion. Anne Arundel County has averaged 65.89 new cases-per-day during the last seven days.
Anne Arundel has the fifth most coronavirus infections in the state, with 11,514. The virus has killed 254 county residents.
Coronavirus-related hospitalizations have seen an upswing recently. Forty-five patients were in the hospital Wednesday.
The county reported 51 hospitalizations three times this week. That was the most since June 13.
The spike ended Anne Arundel’s 124-day streak with fewer than 50 coronavirus patients in the hospital. More than 170 people were hospitalized in Anne Arundel County on the pandemic’s April 21 peak.
“It’s messy,” Pittman said at a virtual town hall on Oct. 15. “That’s the case in every county and every jurisdiction in the world right now.”
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This article originally appeared on the Annapolis Patch