School closures, visitation recommendations and restrictions for hospitals and prisons, prohibitions of gatherings of more than 250 people, and delegating all non-essential non-crisis gubernatorial duties to Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford are among a series of “major actions” that Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday in response to the spread of the coronavirus in Maryland.
“For Marylanders, the actions that I have announced here today will be disruptive to your everyday lives and they may sound extreme and they may sound frightening, but they could be the difference in saving lives and helping keep people safe,” Hogan said during a press briefing Thursday at the State House.
Earlier in the day Thursday, Maryland health officials confirmed that one of the three newly confirmed cases announced the night before was the first instance of community transmission of COVID-19 in the state.
On Thursday, Maryland health officials determined that a Prince George’s County patient contracted the virus through community contact rather than from travel or contact with a known infected individual.
“The circumstances of this case indicate that we are entering a new phase of this crisis in our state. We should expect the number of cases to dramatically and rapidly rise,” Hogan said, adding that the state’s primary focus has turned from containment to mitigating and limiting the spread of the virus.
As of 5:35 p.m. Thursday, there are 12 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 virus in Maryland.
The World Health Organization on Wednesday declared the coronavirus outbreak is now a global pandemic.
Hogan has directed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to move to the highest activation level in order to mobilize all state resources to respond to the COVID-19 virus and coordinate response resources with county and local officials.
Hogan also enacted an executive order activating the Maryland National Guard and moving it to “a higher state of readiness to carry out any necessary functions and critical areas of need in the coming weeks.”
All state government operations have been raised to Elevated Level 2, and all non-essential employees who are approved for telework are required to telework, Hogan said.
Public access to state buildings will be restricted until further notice, Hogan said.
Hogan enacted an executive order “prohibiting social, community, religious, recreational or sports gathering or events of more than 250 people in close proximity at all locations and venues across the state.” All planned large gatherings and events must be cancelled or postponed.
All senior activity centers will be closed until Maryland is no longer operating under a state of emergency, Hogan said.
Hogan has also signed an executive order closing the cruise ship terminal at the Port of Baltimore.
Under that closure, no passenger or crew member will be allowed to disembark at any terminal at the Port of Baltimore from any passenger vessel that has traveled to a port outside of the United States. The only exceptions are two ships that are scheduled to return to port in the coming days, Hogan said.
State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon announced that effective Monday, March 16, through Friday, March 27, all Maryland public schools will be closed.
During that time, all public school buildings and buses will be disinfected to prevent the spread of the coronavirus when students and staff return, Salmon said.
Salmon said she is recommending that days previously scheduled for spring break be used for makeup days for school closures.
All scheduled school-sanctioned travel for students and staff is cancelled effective immediately, Salmon said.
“It is crucial that we take immediate measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in school communities around the state,” she said.
Hogan also enacted an executive order extending expiration dates of licenses, permits, certifications, and authorizations issued by state agencies, such as driver’s licenses, vehicle registrations and professional licenses, until 30 days after the state of emergency ends.
The governor is directing all Maryland hospitals to immediately adopt new visitor policies, including only allowing one adult visitor per patient, prohibiting visitors younger than 18 years old, screening visitors for flu-like symptoms, and prohibiting visitors who have recently traveled internationally.
Additionally, all Maryland state prisons will suspend visits immediately to protect employees, inmates, detainees and their families from the coronavirus, Hogan said.
Hogan has delegated day-to-day operations of all non-essential, non-crisis functions of state government to Rutherford for the duration of the state of emergency “so that I can focus my full attention on managing this crisis,” the governor said.
Despite the major actions, Hogan said “daily life as we know it should not come to a halt.” He said grocery stores, gas stations, restaurants and other businesses that are “essential to society and community” should remain open.
Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of public school services for the Maryland Department of Health, acknowledged that the actions the state is executing will have a significant impact on Marylanders.
“These are extraordinary measures that you have heard announced today, and this is an extraordinary time,” she said.
Phillips said the state has three primary goals during its response to COVID-19: separating people to slow person-to-person transmission; protecting the state’s most vulnerable populations, including people who are age 60 or older and people with underlying medical conditions; and maintaining essential services.
Dr. David Marcozzi, the associate chair of population health in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, applauded the Hogan administration for implementing proactive measures that he said will reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus in Maryland.
“The healthcare system can treat those who are ill, and across all of Maryland we are readying ourselves in case we need to,” he said. “However, by putting aggressive steps in place that the governor just outlined with regard to social distancing, closures of schools, teleworking, these are steps we can all adopt.”
Dr. Stephen Evans, executive vice president and chief medical officer at MedStar Health, said state and local agencies across Maryland are collaborating to develop protocol for who to test and who should go to an emergency room, and standards for admission into a hospital.
Evans said they are also modeling their care off of responses to the coronavirus in other countries and “preparing ourselves so that we can care for every Marylander if necessary.”
Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) said he and House Speaker Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) will be meeting with legislators after the briefing to discuss actions “to ensure that the legislature can continue to uphold its constitutional duties but doing it in a way that is safe and that is protecting public health.”