After confirmed cases of COVID-19 ballooned over the weekend, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered all non-essential businesses closed at 5 p.m. Monday. He said the measures are necessary to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus and could potentially save thousands of lives.
Despite past executive orders restricting social gatherings to groups of no more than 10, people continue to crowd public spaces, such as the beaches in Ocean City, Hogan said.
“Because of this irresponsible and reckless behavior, beginning today, even further and more aggressive enforcement actions will be taken by state and local authorities to disperse these gatherings,” he said.
As of 5 p.m. Monday, only “essential” businesses will be open. Hogan’s office released a list of dozens of examples of businesses and organizations that can stay open. These range from laundromats to pharmacies, grocery stores, big box stores, pet supply stores, banks, and a range of manufacturing firms.
Restaurants will still be allowed to offer carry-out. Liquor stores and daycare centers can stay open.
“Let me be clear: We are not issuing or ordering a shelter in place directive, or forcing people to stay home,” Hogan said. “However, we are telling all Marylanders to follow all of the directives we've already issued, and to follow state law against crowds of more than 10 people, and we are telling you unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, then you should stay in your homes.”
At the press conference Monday morning, the governor also announced several initiatives to increase the capacity to test and treat patients for the novel coronavirus, and to bolster small businesses.
Maryland hospitals have made an additional 900 beds available, with plans for another 1,400 by early April. The ultimate goal, which Hogan announced last week, is 6,000 additional beds.
The Maryland National Guard is working to establish a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center and an “alternate care site” at the Hilton Baltimore Inner Harbor hotel next door. The facilities will be operated through a partnership between Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical System.
The state is also working with the University of Maryland Medical System to reopen Laurel Hospital, making another 135 beds available.
And the state is planning drive-through testing at FedEx Field in Landover, and at five vehicle emissions inspection centers. To set these up, officials are waiting on the necessary testing kits, personal protective equipment for healthcare workers, and capacity at labs to process them.
Healthcare providers are now required to prioritize the use of tests for hospitalized patients. To free up capacity, providers also must stop all elective procedures.
To help businesses, Hogan announced $175 million in relief efforts.
Businesses with up to 50 employees can apply for grants and loans to cover overhead costs like rent, mortgage payments, utilities and payroll.
Hogan also announced $5 million in incentives for businesses that manufacture much-needed healthcare supplies, including personal protective equipment and ventilators.
“The state may purchase this equipment, or we may connect manufacturers with buyers who need these vital resources,” said State Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz.
The governor acknowledged that the damage to the economy is likely to be significant.
“I know how incredibly difficult this is on each and every one of you. There is a great deal of fear and anxiety,” he said. “And the truth is that none of us really know how bad it's going to get or how long it's going to last.”
As hard as these restrictions are, he said, they’re the best way to save thousands of lives.