Following the first death in Maryland from COVID-19, and an 88 percent increase in confirmed cases over the last two days, Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday tightened restrictions on public gatherings and access to BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, and urged Marylanders to avoid public transit unless they are “essential workers.”
Gatherings are now capped at 10 people, down from the previously allowed amount of 50, and the governor said that only people with plane tickets and workers with the proper credentials will be allowed to enter the state’s biggest airport. Those assisting disabled people into the airport will be exempted.
Additionally, Hogan urged Marylanders not to use MTA buses, MARC trains, subways and other forms of public transit unless they are healthcare personnel or workers critical to the supply chain.
“Unfortunately we are only at the beginning of this crisis,” Hogan said. “And while this is the first death here in Maryland, unfortunately it will not be the last.”
As of Thursday morning, the number of confirmed cases in the state has grown to 107, including a 5-year-old Howard County girl.
The governor also added enclosed malls and entertainment venues to the list of businesses that must close down during the pandemic, joining bars, restaurants, gyms and movie theaters. Eateries can still offer carryout or delivery food, and Hogan today issued an order allowing restaurants, breweries, distilleries, wineries and bars to deliver alcohol or sell it to-go.
In ordering the tighter controls on the size of crowds, Hogan criticized people who held parties or cookouts when the restrictions on public gatherings where limited to 250 people and then reduced to 50 people.
“If you are engaged in this type of activity, you are in violation of state law and you are endangering the lives of your fellow Marylanders,” he said.
The governor appeared to dismiss calls to release vulnerable inmates–people who are older than 60 or have pre-existing medical conditions–in the state’s prisons and jails, saying, “They’re safer where they are.”
A coalition including advocacy groups and public defenders on Wednesday sent a letter to his office arguing all inmates are particularly vulnerable to coronavirus “because of the inability to practice social distancing, lack of adequate sanitation, and the constant influx of new people from outside.”
The coalition asked for the release of inmates who fall under the vulnerable groups.
In response to a question from the media, the governor said he had not seen a proposal to release certain inmates, but that his office is open to proposals from state’s attorneys offices.
Hogan, who serves as chairman of the National Governors Association, said he and other state executives are joining a call with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence today and plan to ask for 50 percent of stimulus money to go to the states; increased access to testing, ventilators and other medical supplies; “maximum flexibility for the use of the National Guard”; guidance on a new federal order for private companies to start making supplies; and a delay for completing the 2020 Census and the deadline for Real ID.
He later suggested that any federal relief for small businesses should be funneled through the states, since local officials on the ground already have a sense of the greatest areas of need.
Hogan said he is also holding calls with Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, and with all the county executives in Maryland.
“This fight against this global pandemic is a race against time and we must take action now,” he said. “We cannot afford to delay.”
During his Thursday press conference, Hogan also gave updates on previous actions his administration has taken to limit the spread of coronavirus. One order called on the Maryland Department of Health to develop a plan to increase the number of hospital beds by 6,000.
As of day, Hogan said, 900 additional beds have been made available, and officials expect to have an additional 1,400 beds by early April. Part of that effort is taking place at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, where the operators are planning to open a new 32-bed care center on the 17th floor.
The governor also said there are now 350 food distribution sites set up across the state to help people in need.
Following the lead of private colleges such as Johns Hopkins University and McDaniel College, Hogan said he has asked the University System of Maryland to finish the spring semester by teaching courses online. While the campuses will remain open, he asked administrators to discourage students from returning.
Education officials have been holding regular talks about how to proceed with education in K-12 public schools, including whether to conduct classes online and provide kits for children without access to computers. But no final decision has been made, Hogan said.
In spite of his earlier criticism of people who flaunted the regulations on crowd sizes, Hogan praised how people in the state have responded to the crisis, pointing to distilleries that are now making hand sanitizer, a boat company that donated 14,000 respirator masks to the health department and coordinated efforts in Baltimore neighborhoods such as Hampden, Charles Village and Sandtown-Winchester to check in on elderly neighbors.
“This truly is one of the most daunting challenges that our state has ever faced,” he said. “But sometimes, the worst times have a way of bringing out the very best in people, and Marylanders are a shining example of that.”
The state today launched a new website called Maryland Unites to highlight these efforts and inform residents about other volunteer opportunities and organizations that need donations.
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