On the heels of sharp increases in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations Tuesday morning, Gov. Larry Hogan called on the leaders of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions to strictly enforce coronavirus-related restrictions on bars and restaurants, saying some establishments are “flagrantly violating the law.”
In a letter to local leaders, Hogan wrote the rate of positive tests among Marylanders age 35 and younger is now 84 percent higher than residents age 35 and older.
“At least 12 states have already moved to re-close restaurants and bars–we do not want to be forced to take the same action here in Maryland,” he wrote.
Under an executive order issued June 10, Hogan allowed establishments across the state to reopen for indoor service so long as tables are separated by six feet, all staff wear face coverings and no more than six people are seated at a table.
In spaces with booths, only every other booth can have diners. “Standing and congregating in bar areas is strictly prohibited,” Hogan noted in his letter today.
The governor called for businesses in violation of his order to be warned, fined, have actions taken against their licenses, or closed, if necessary.
“You have the responsibility to enforce these laws,” Hogan told the executives.
On Twitter, Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci pointed to an announcement from Montgomery county officials that two Silver Spring eateries, Society Restaurant & Lounge and The Republic Garden, were shut down and had their licenses suspended after rules violations.
Two other restaurants in different parts of the county received citations, according to the announcement.
“This is exactly what the governor’s letter to local leaders today is about, taking swift action against businesses that fail to comply with public health orders,” Ricci tweeted.
In a statement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. called on Hogan to renew his weekly conference calls with local leaders, which he ended in mid-May, according to a report by Maryland Matters.
“Baltimore County continues to do whatever it takes to protect the health and safety of our residents from the dangers of this deadly disease. This requires leaders at all levels to communicate directly,” Olszewski said. “Rather than raising issues through a press release, I encourage Governor Hogan to personally re-join the ongoing conversations with local leaders so we can work hand-in-hand to defeat our common enemy.”
Representatives for Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young declined to comment on the governor’s letter. Spokespeople for the executives in Anne Arundel and Howard counties did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
As the state has moved into different parts of its COVID-19 reopening plan, Hogan has ultimately left it up to local jurisdictions to decide if they are ready to join. Local executives have criticized this approach, saying it creates confusion.
To avoid such uncertainty, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. decided last month to align the county’s reopening with the state’s.
“We know that a patchwork approach has put businesses on an uneven playing field, and we know that the public health benefits have been muted by having differing approaches in different jurisdictions across our state,” he said on June 4.
Young moved Baltimore along more deliberately at first. On Wednesday, May 27, Hogan said the state would complete phase one of the reopening plan on that Friday, paving the way for outdoor dining, youth sports and other activities.
But the mayor did not ease restrictions to bring Baltimore in line with the state until June 5.
During a June 10 press conference, Hogan praised the city’s handling of protests responding to the death of Minneapolis man George Floyd, while also taking a swipe at Young for his slower reopening.
“I think it’s absolutely absurd that there are thousands of people gathering in the streets and yet a small business in Baltimore can’t open their doors,” Hogan said. “And I think Jack Young should let those small retail shops open–they should have been open a long time ago.”
Meanwhile, Dr. Tom Inglesby, a Johns Hopkins expert on pandemics who has advised the Hogan administration on its response to COVID-19, cautioned a day later that the state was moving too fast.
In a Twitter thread, he noted Maryland had made considerable progress in containing the virus, but there was not enough data available on the possible spread of coronavirus from the protests. He also said not enough time had passed since the state completed phase one to see if there was any effect.
“We haven’t had time to see impact,” he said.
Research has since shown the protests across the country did not lead to a major spike in cases.
On June 12, the mayor responded to Hogan’s criticism, saying the city has been making its decisions based on the data and recommendations from health professionals.
“I don’t know what the governor is looking at,” Young said. “I look at what my health professionals are telling me and the data. I don’t know what he’s looking at.”
The following week, the mayor loosened restrictions on retail businesses, indoor dining, sports games, and other places and activities, bringing the city into phase two.
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