Gov. Hogan closes all non-essential businesses due to COVID-19

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Gov. Larry Hogan speaks inside the State House flanked by Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz, left, and Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson, right. Image via Gov. Larry Hogan’s Facebook Live broadcast.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday closed all non-essential businesses in response to the coronavirus pandemic, once again stressing the importance of social distancing and chiding residents who were not following crowd restrictions implemented by the state government.

The governor said the state used federal guidelines to decide which businesses could remain open. Those sectors include: healthcare, grocery stores, liquor stores, agriculture, energy, public works, community government, public safety, transportation, manufacturing and banks.

Restaurants can reportedly still do carry-out and daycare centers may remain open under the order. Among commercial businesses, home repair companies, cleaning companies, hardware stores, and laundromats and dry cleaners can also stay open, according to state guidance.

Following today’s order, the Board of Liquor License Commissioners for Baltimore City said all licensed establishments “are considered essential businesses and thus not required to cease operations as per this Executive Order.”

The order takes effect at 5 p.m. Monday.

While clarifying this was not a “shelter in place” order, an action other states have taken during the pandemic, Hogan urged Marylanders to remain inside unless it is absolutely necessary to leave.

“Unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, then you should stay home,” he said.

Earlier today, the state announced there are now 288 confirmed cases of the virus. Three Marylanders, all of whom had underlying medical conditions, have died from the virus.

Hogan said “an overwhelming majority of Marylanders” have taken the pandemic seriously and stayed at home or practiced social distancing in public, but he criticized crowds around the Tidal Basin in Washington, D.C. to look at the cherry blossoms and large gatherings in Ocean City and local parks.

“Let me repeat once again, as strongly as I possibly can: If you are engaged in this kind of activity, you are breaking the law, and you are literally endangering the lives of your family, your friends and your fellow citizens,” he said.

In response, the governor said he advised local police departments and state police agencies to more aggressively disperse crowds by flashing their sirens and ordering a group of more than 10 people to leave a location.

The Hogan administration also unveiled $175 million in new programs to help small businesses and nonprofits weather the loss of revenue during the pandemic.

The Maryland Department of Commerce has two new funds to help businesses and nonprofits with 50 or fewer employees. The first, a $75 million loan fund, provides these organizations up to $50,000 to keep up with payroll, pay suppliers, pay rent or utilities, and other operating costs. There’s also a $50 million grant fund to provide organizations up to $10,000 to cover those same costs.

“We know that people are not just worried about their health and the health of their loved ones,” Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said. “We know you are worrying about your jobs, and whether the stores will be open and about taking care of your families.”

The agency is also offering a $5 million incentive to manufacturers who can switch operations to produce personal protective equipment, medical masks and other necessary supplies.

The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation is also offering a layoff aversion fund to help businesses operate during the pandemic. Recipients can receive up to $50,000 to enhance teleworking capabilities, sanitize workplaces and receive liability insurance. Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson said applicants to the fund will receive a response in two business days.

Hogan said approximately $40 million in additional emergency funds will be channeled through other state programs, and businesses in the state are eligible to apply for relief from the federal Small Business Administration.

For workers who have already been laid off, Robinson said the agency has added more servers so its site doesn’t crash and increased call center hours. Claims are being taken immediately, and unlike some states, there’s no wait period to receive benefits, she said.

The department has also expanded benefits to people who are quarantined or are caring for someone who is, and has temporarily waived any requirements that recipients must be looking for a job while they’re out of work.

After declaring a state of emergency on March 5, Hogan has issued executive orders closing various businesses, limiting the size of crowds and other measures to ramp up the state’s response and limit the spread of the disease.

On March 12, Hogan rolled out his first series of actions in response to the virus, closing schools, limiting visits to prisons and hospitals, prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people and activating the Maryland National Guard.

To focus his efforts on the crisis, he delegated non-essential gubernatorial duties to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford.

Since then, he has heightened some restrictions and rolled out new ones. Crowds were limited to 50 people, and then 10. Bars and restaurants, enclosed shopping centers, entertainment venues, gyms and movie theaters were all ordered to close in a series of orders, but restaurants were allowed to stay to sell carry-out food and bars, wineries, distilleries and breweries were granted the ability to sell off their inventory to-go.

Officials urged the public to avoid MTA buses, MARC trains, subways and other forms of public transit unless they were healthcare personnel or workers critical to the supply chain.

Only ticketed passengers and credentialed workers were allowed access to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

The governor postponed the primary election, previously scheduled for April 28, to June 2, and moved to have a special election to fill former Rep. Elijah Cummings’ 7th Congressional District completed with a mail-in ballot.

Late last week, the Maryland National Guard arrived in Baltimore to respond to the pandemic. Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said the troops will help distribute meals at school sites and help local medical teams develop facilities for their response.

In a statement, Young said he requested the Guard in the city “to provide humanitarian assistance in partnership with our city agencies as we work to slow the spread of COVID-19.”

Hogan’s spokesperson Mike Ricci said on Friday the Guard will carry out a number of operations, such as transporting patients, setting up triage tents and building a testing site outside FedEx Field in Landover.

The state is also increasing its capacity for patients by 6,000 beds. Officials have already brought 900 more online and expect another 1,400 by early April, Hogan said.

In a series of new moves, the state will create a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center and provide alternate care at the Hilton hotel across the street. The Maryland National Guard is setting up the facilities with help from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins.

Hogan said he is expecting a FEMA shipment of 250 beds for the effort.

The state health department, Prince George’s County Health Department, the Guard and the University of Maryland Medical System are working to reopen the Laurel Hospital, providing another 135 beds.

This story has been updated.

Brandon Weigel

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