ANNAPOLIS — Marylanders will not be ordered to shelter in place, but the state will use “more aggressive” measures to ensure people follow federal and state guidelines in the effort to stop the spread of the deadly COVID-19 global pandemic.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan held a press conference Monday morning outlining additional measures to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, which will crack down on those who defy state mandates on public gatherings and social distancing. He also introduced actions by his administration to assist small businesses and workers that have been economically impacted by the virus.
Over the past weekend, Maryland saw a 678-percent increase in confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus. The state’s confirmed case count now sits at 288, as cases have been confirmed in 21 of 24 Maryland jurisdictions. A Montgomery County woman became the third person in Maryland to succumb to COVID-19 on March 21. She was in her 40s and had an underlying health condition.
Hogan said that the state has taken “swift, decisive and unprecedented” actions to mitigate the spread of the deadly coronavirus. He thanked the majority of people who are taking these actions seriously and complying with state directives, but said that many people are still not taking these directives seriously. He gave a strong warning to people who continue to not practice social distancing and continue to participate in prohibited public gatherings.
“You are breaking the law, and you are literally endangering the lives of your family, friends and your fellow citizens,” Hogan said. “Because of this irresponsible and reckless behavior, beginning today, even further and more aggressive actions will be taken by state and local authorities to disperse these gatherings.”
The state is also taking on additional immediate actions to protect the health and safety of all Marylanders, Hogan said. These actions include enhancing social distancing practices. The governor signed an executive order this morning closing all nonessential businesses, establishments, facilities and organizations. That order becomes effective at 5 p.m. today.
This new executive order covers all businesses by federal guidelines that were issued by the U.S. Government last week. Only businesses defined as critical infrastructure sectors will remain open, Hogan said. These businesses include grocery stores and food production, healthcare, pharmacies, utilities, shipping, banking, law enforcement, emergency services and other government personnel.
During his press conference, Hogan said he wanted to make it clear that he is not ordering a “shelter in place” directive or forcing people to stay home. He is, however, telling Marylanders to follow the directives that have already been issued and to follow the state law pertaining to public gatherings, which allows for gatherings of no more than 10 people.
“We are telling you that unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, you should stay in your home,” Hogan said. “Today’s actions of closing non-essential businesses are absolutely necessary to protect the health of Marylanders and to save lives.”
“This is an exceptionally challenging time for Marylanders and for all Americans. That includes those who are out of work in our small business community.”
Hogan said the first priority during this unprecedented global pandemic is to save lives. At the same time, the state is fighting a battle to protect people from the potential of tremendous economic harm. Both problems need to be met aggressively and simultaneously.
“Both of these battles are going to take all of us at the federal, state and local levels, and the private sector rising to these challenges and working together,” Hogan said.
As Chairman of the National Governors Association, Hogan said he submitted to the White House several priorities last week. These are based on the priorities of governors across the nation. Some progress has been made, he said, like invoking Title 32, so the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA) can reimburse states for the cost to employ the National Guard during the public health emergency, and ramping up the production and delivery of proper protective equipment (PPE) and necessary equipment used by hospitals.
Hogan said he and the NGA are still pushing for progress on other priorities, like a Real ID extension, and a major economic stimulus and money that will go directly to states to assist businesses and individuals that have been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. The federal government began efforts to create an economic relief package last week. Partisan roadblocks have so far impeded those efforts.
“We are going to raise these issues again on our call with the president and vice president this afternoon,” Hogan said.
Hogan said he has spoken several times with U.S. Labor Secretary Gene Scalia in recent days about helping unemployed and displaced workers. The two have also discussed the availability of $100 million for displaced workers in response to this health emergency, Hogan said.
Hogan said the economic package currently being debated in Congress includes a $300 billion economic relief plan to help small businesses make payroll and cover expenses. The legislation would provide cash flow assistance and federally-guaranteed loans to employers so that small businesses can ramp back up after the crisis is over, Hogan said.
“We need Congress working together to support our efforts,” Hogan said. “This is no time for partisan dysfunction. We need all of us working together in order to save thousands of lives.”
Hogan said that while the efforts so far are appreciated, states continue to need more assistance and more action. Maryland is not going to wait for action from the federal government, he said.
“As we have time and time again, we will continue to lead and continue to take action in this crisis,” Hogan said.
Hogan said he and the Maryland General Assembly have been working together since he declared a state of emergency on March 5 to not only mitigate the spread of the virus, but also to reduce the impact by COVID-19 left on Maryland residents.
Three weeks ago, Hogan said he submitted a supplemental budget with an immediate $10 million available to prepare the state’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Two weeks ago, Hogan submitted emergency legislation to tap into the state’s “rainy day” fund in order to respond to the crisis, he said. Last Thursday, he signed emergency legislation that provides relief to Maryland workers by allowing them to collect unemployment insurance if they’re businesses had been closed due to COVID-19.
“Today, we are taking additional major steps to help support the state’s small businesses and workers,” Hogan said.
Maryland is immediately launching a $175 million comprehensive business relief plan. It will bring together resources from two state agencies – the Maryland Department of Commerce and the Maryland Department of Labor. This relief plan will help hardpressed Marylanders and small businesses get through the economic hardships created by the virus, Hogan said. The state’s unemployment insurance program has been ramped up, and is dedicated to helping employees and employers who have been affected by COVID-19, he said.
“If you’ve been laid off, you can immediately file a claim by phone or email, or by submitting an application online,” Hogan said. “Unlike other states, Maryland has no waiting period whatsoever. Claims can be filed right away.”
The state has also begun a COVID-19 Layoff Aversion Fund, which makes an additional $7 million available to help small businesses retain employees during the crisis, Hogan said. Maryland small businesses can apply for up to $50,000 in additional funding to continue operations and keep employees on payroll, he said. These resources are already available at www.businessexpress.maryland.gov./coronavirus, Hogan said.
Small businesses and nonprofit organizations with fewer than 50 employees who have lost revenue will be able to request additional from the Maryland Department of Commerce through the Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Relief Fund. This is a fund that will provide working capital to small businesses and nonprofits that have lost revenue due to the coronavirus pandemic, Hogan said.
Also being established is a $50 million Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Grant Relief Fund, Hogan said. This fund does not provide small businesses with long-term loans, but with grants up to $10,000 to assist with lost revenue due to COVID-19.
Maryland is immediately developing a $5 million fund to provide incentives to small businesses in the state that manufacture PPE and other supplies so healthcare workers can meet critical demands as they treat infected patients, Hogan said. Another $40 million from all other existing commerce finance programs to target assistance to small businesses so they can survive the COVID-19 crisis and preserve the jobs of their employees.
Hogan said he issued an executive order today that protects families from price gouging, when a seller prices goods and services much higher than what is considered reasonable or fair. Hogan’s executive order covers all essential household items and commodities, he said.
“Retailers who attempt to exploit this crisis for profit or gain will be prosecuted with the fullest extent of the law,” Hogan said.
Hogan said that a plan is in the works to place a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center as an alternate care center, and place an additional alternate care center att the Hilton Hotel, located adjacent to the convention center. The Maryland National Guard will be setting up these sites with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, he said.
Last week, Maryland launched a plan to increase hospital capacity by an additional 6,000 beds, Hogan said. The first phase of this plan has already added 900 beds, and an additional 1,400 beds added by early April is expected. Hogan said that at his direction, FEMA will deliver 250 hospital bed packages in the coming days.
Hogan said his administration has worked with the University of Maryland Medical System to reopen a hospital in Laurel that will make an additional 135 beds available. The Maryland National Guard is partnering with the Maryland Department of Health and the Prince Goerge’s County Health Department to place a drive-thru COVID-19 testing center at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. Five vehicle emissions centers are ready to immediately open as drive-thru testing centers as soon as the necessary testing kits, PPE and lab capabilities become available, he said.
Hogan said he issued an executive order today to authorize a fastrack process to bring more testing capabilities to the state without waiting for federal action or Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval. This order shortens a process that otherwise would have taken several months, he said.