BALTIMORE — Marylanders may leave their homes only for essential work or urgent medical care, to get food or prescriptions or for other “absolutely necessary” reasons, Gov. Larry Hogan said Monday under a new “stay-at-home” directive to stop the spread of the coronavirus.
“This is the deadly public health crisis,” the Republican governor said. “We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home. We are directing them to do so.”
Hogan said the additional measures were necessary given the concern that the virus could hinder the federal government’s ability to respond to the crisis. That’s due to the concentration of the capital-area workforce in the state.
The governor said he was also worried about the possibility the disease could spread to “literally thousands” of facilities in Maryland, including hospitals, detention centers and nursing homes.
With similar orders issued Monday by District of Columbia Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, both Democrats, the region is now under a quasi-lockdown — a drastic change in how people live and work in the Mid-Atlantic compared to just a few weeks ago.
For Marylanders who have followed Hogan’s prior orders and recommendations from health officials, the stay-at-home directive may make little difference. No additional businesses are required to close, and residents don’t have to stay in their homes at all times.
“People have to go out and get food. They need to get prescriptions,” Hogan said. “You should be able to get outside for your own physical and mental well-being and go for a walk and take your dog for a walk.”
But with the new order and with blunt language, Hogan sought to get the attention of residents who didn’t take earlier directives seriously.
The stay-at-home directive will be enforced, the governor said. Any person who knowingly and willfully violates it is guilty of a misdemeanor.
At least two people have been charged with throwing parties in violation of prior orders, which restrict gatherings to no more than 10 people. They are a Charles County man who allegedly hosted a bonfire for dozens of guests and a man who rented a hotel room in Carroll County for a party that allegedly included underage drinking.
“Marylanders need to know that, unfortunately, we are only at the beginning of this crisis and it is going to get considerably worse before it gets better,” Hogan said. “I realize this is incredibly difficult on everyone in our state, but I want people to know that we have been through difficult challenges before and that we are going to get through this together.”
Hogan said people who have returned to Maryland from other states should self-quarantine for 14 days, and he discouraged residents from traveling out-of-state.
“This is a rapidly escalating emergency situation,” the governor said.
Congregating in parks or shopping for home goods is not OK, he emphasized, urging people to exercise “common sense.”
Monday afternoon, after the announcement, lines formed at liquor stores and some Marylanders posted on social media about the need to make alcohol purchases before 8 p.m. (Liquor stores, however, remain on the list of “essential” businesses — and are therefore allowed to stay open.)
Graciela Gómez said when she first heard about the directive Monday, she worried that it closed restaurants and drive-throughs. Concerned there could be a run on grocery stores, the 21-year-old Gaithersburg resident stocked up on carryout from restaurants.
Only after reading the executive order did Gómez realize there was no risk of further closures to food and beverage businesses. Restaurants and liquor stores can stay open for carryout, curbside and delivery service. Supermarkets and pharmacies can remain open as long as social distancing measures, such as keeping customers 6 feet apart, are respected.
People seeking guidance on the order Monday flooded the Twitter feed of the governor’s spokesman, Mike Ricci. Nearly 50 people tweeted about being able to get fresh air, walk a dog or get a car repaired. Ricci replied that those were all acceptable, as long as people continued to practice social distancing.
The situation could continue for months, said Fran Phillips, Maryland’s deputy health secretary.
“We have no vaccine to protect us against this virus,” she said. “We have no treatments to cure this disease.”
Phillips said young people should not think of themselves as being immune. More than half of all positive cases in Maryland involve people age 50 and younger. Of those who are hospitalized, 56% are younger than 60. The state’s youngest patient is a month-old infant.
Most people will be able to stay at home to recover, Phillips said. Others, however, will not be able to breathe on their own. She said the virus spreads easily and it takes days for symptoms to appear.
“This virus and this disease are sneaky,” Phillips said, adding, “What you do today, what you do tomorrow, matters. There are some very sick people here in Maryland.”
To increase the ability for people to be tested, the state opened drive-thru sites at Motor Vehicle Administration emissions stations in Glen Burnie, Waldorf and Bel Air, Hogan said. Another opened at FedEx Field in Landover. Testing at the sites is limited to those with orders from a health care provider and an appointment, Hogan said.
Confirmed cases in Maryland have reached 1,413 as of Monday. Fifteen people have died from COVID-19. The largest concentration of known cases are in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties. They have 341 and 294 cases, respectively.
Baltimore County had 186, according to state numbers. Anne Arundel County had 110. Howard County had 96. Carroll County had 82. Charles County had 33. Frederick County had 26 and Harford County had 24. In Baltimore City, 142 were diagnosed with the coronavirus.
Local officials offered support for Hogan’s order and sought to amplify his message.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said he backs Hogan’s decision to put more restrictions in place to protect the public and he urged city residents to follow the governor’s orders. The stay-at-home directive will not impact essential services, Young said, and trash and recycling will still be picked up.
“In order to flatten the curve of this disease and save as many lives as possible, we need to give our health care workers and essential employees the space that they need to work,” Young, a Democrat, said.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, said Hogan’s decision to issue the stay-at-home order “was the right one.”
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, also a Democrat, cautioned county residents: “There is no excuse for taking this directive lightly. In order to slow the spread, it is vital that we stay home and reduce contact with one another.”
Many other measures are underway to respond to the crisis throughout Maryland.
To prepare for a surge in patients, the governor said the state has ordered 500 beds for hospitals to add more capacity on their campuses. A request for another 500 has been made so they can distributed as hot spots arise. Hogan said the state also has ordered more medical tents.
The governor called doctors and nurses “true heroes.” To help protect them amid the supply shortage, the state’s school systems have donated various items, such as gloves, masks and gowns.
“We are all going to need to depend on each other, to look out for each and to take care of each other. We are all in this together,” Hogan said.
An outbreak in the region is especially alarming because more than 404,000 federal workers live in Maryland, Washington and Virginia and are on the front lines of the government’s response. Among the federal agencies based in Maryland are the National Institutes of Health and the Food and Drug Administration.
“A major outbreak among our critical federal work workforce could be catastrophic, crippling the national response,” Hogan said. He has joined Northam and Bowser in asking Republican President Donald Trump to make the region a priority for federal support.
Currently, the region has 2,709 confirmed COVID-19 cases.
Maryland will need significant financial help from the federal government. This crisis is going to be “devastating” to the state budget and will perhaps drain its entire rainy day fund, Hogan said.
Since it was announced last week, the state has received thousands of applications for money from Maryland’s $175 million relief package for businesses and unemployed workers. One program has already provided nearly $9 million to more than 400 small business, in turn, helping more than 8,000 Marylanders keep their jobs.
Donald C. Fry, president of the Greater Baltimore Committee, said while he understands the governor’s new order will create more hardship for businesses, employers and employees, “it is meant to ensure that Maryland can respond aggressively to the COVID-19 pandemic and enable us to bounce back when the crisis subsides.”
Others are able to continue to operate through the use of technology, he said.
“Many businesses have fully transitioned to telework and are doing all they can to keep their operations and the economy as strong and viable during these challenging times,” Fry said. “Taking steps to provide for a healthy workforce will help with the economic recovery once we are in a position to return to normal business operations.”
(The Baltimore Sun’s McKenna Oxenden contributed to this report.)
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