By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO

As the number of COVID-19 cases in Baltimore continues to climb, city officials are slashing services and being forced to make quick adjustments to combat its spread. 

As of April 7, the city reported 459 known cases, with nine deaths. Statewide Maryland’s case count climbed to 4,371 cases, with 103 deaths.  

Over the weekend Baltimore police commissioner Michael Harrison shut down the city’s Southwest District police headquarters after several officers tested positive for Coronavirus. 

Baltimore Mayor Bernard “Jack” Young argues the city’s crime plan is working despite seemingly pervasive violence. (AP Photo)

The building was deep cleaned and subsequently re-opened, but the incident highlighted the fraught balance between delivering city services in time of crisis and protecting employees who are more likely to be exposed.

“I commend Police Commissioner Harrison’s decision to adjust operations at the Southwest Police District,” Mayor Young said in a written statement. “Safeguarding the health of the public and our hard-working officers will remain our top priority. I am thankful to the men and women of the department, who continue to protect and serve during an extremely difficult time.”

Two weeks ago, Young instituted hazard pay for the police departmental adding $200 dollars per bi-weekly paycheck for officers working during the pandemic.  

But it’s not just policing that has faced challenges from the scourge of novel virus.

Recently the city responded to concerns that Baltimore’s growing homeless population was particularly vulnerable to the disease. To address the threat, city officials moved roughly 150 homeless people over the age of 62 into motels.  

“We are relocating homeless individuals that are over 62 and residing in City shelters to motel rooms in order to help protect them from COVID-19.  We continue to work with our non-profit partners to provide safe lodging and support for all of our homeless clients.” Said Jerrianne Anthony, director of the Mayor’s Office of Homeless Services.

Currently the city has moved 150 people into motels.  All of them have been tested and are isolated awaiting results. 

Homeless advocates had pushed for the at-risk population to be moved to the city financed Hilton Hotel, but it was not clear which facilities the city was using. 

Water taxi service has also been rolled back due to falling demand. Last week Baltimore suspended its Harbor Connector service, which provides a shuttle between Fells Point and a dock near Fort McHenry. City officials say ridership has dropped 90 percent. 

The crisis has even softened the city’s longstanding take-no-prisoners approach to collecting water bills. Earlier last month Mayor Young suspended all collection efforts and late fees associated with unpaid water bills.

Meanwhile the council has also moved to adapt to social distancing requirements, holding its first ever virtual council meeting Monday. Among the items on the agenda for Monday’s meeting was a bill requiring the health department to publicly post data related to the pandemic regularly on its website.

In email to constituents, City Council President Brandon Scott also reminded residents to report price gouging by merchants or grocery stores. Residents were urged to take a picture of the item and record the price. Evidence should be submitted to the Maryland Attorney General’s Office by calling 410-528-8662, or email consumer@oag.state.md.us