As the number of COVID-19 cases begins to ramp up in Maryland, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) announced more drastic emergency measures Monday in the face of the materializing public health crisis.
Hogan said that as of Monday morning there are over 100 confirmed cases in the Washington, D.C., region ― including 37 confirmed COVID-19 diagnoses in Maryland.
“This is going to be much harder, take much longer and be much worse than almost anyone is currently understanding,” the governor said during a news conference outside the State House. “And unfortunately, far too many people have continued to ignore those warnings and are crowding into bars and restaurants, willingly putting the health and safety of others in grave danger.”
Effective Monday evening, the governor has mandated the closure of all bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms in the state, and additionally has banned all religious, social and recreational gatherings of 50 or more people.
Essential stores ― like supermarkets, gas stations and pharmacies ― will remain open. Carryout and delivery restaurants are also allowed to remain in operation.
Hogan stated that these orders “carry the full force of the law” and will be enforced by local law enforcement and the Maryland State Police.
He said that the measures put into place by local and federal decision-makers may be “disruptive,” but that they are “absolutely necessary to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.”
“While these measures may seem extreme, if we do not take them now it could be too late,” Hogan said. “I will make whatever decisions and take whatever actions are necessary to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders and to protect our way of life itself.”
Deputy Secretary for Public Health Fran Phillips heralded the social distancing measures put into place as “the one response that we can muster.”
“What we’re experiencing here is unprecedented,” said Phillips. “It is a public health emergency, and this is a new virus for which there is obviously no vaccine, and there is no medication for treatments.”
“When we get a vaccine ― when we get a treatment ― we will push them out. But the steps that every Marylander can take today … is vitally important to slow down the spread of this infection across our state.”
Phillips said that COVID-19 testing in the state is “experiencing a shortage,” citing a scarcity of kits and the chemicals necessary to complete the tests.
She said that efforts are underway to augment the state’s testing ability, adding that even if individuals are exhibiting symptoms like a cough, difficulty breathing and a fever above 104 degrees, not everyone needs to be tested.
Phillips said that isolation and careful self-monitoring can be sufficient care.
“Not everyone needs to be tested,” she said. “So until such time as we have adequate testing resources, it’s up to all of us to take care of ourselves, monitor our symptoms and, if we start to feel that we’re trouble, call your doctor or call 911.”
Along with the new social restrictions, Hogan has put orders into place to protect Marylanders who may feel the sting of the projected financial impact, directing a moratorium on evictions during the state of emergency and prohibiting shut-offs and late fee charges for utilities like gas, electric, water, phone and internet services.
Last Thursday, the Hogan administration announced that all public schools in the state will be closed for two weeks effective Monday, leaving some children with limited access to food.
To combat child hunger during the public health crisis, Superintendent of School Dr. Karen B. Salmon has applied for a federal waiver to finance daily meals for school-aged kids who may be food-insecure.
Salmon said that the waiver has yet to be approved, but the state has moved forward with the program.
Over 130 of these centers are currently in operation across the state.
Salmon also addressed the possibility of an extension of the school closures, calling the two-week closure an “assessment period.”
She said that she is in talks with county school superintendents throughout the state to determine how to move forward should schools be unable to re-open in late March.
While attempting to maintain operations of everyday life to the best of their ability, state leaders are continuing to look into ways to curb the seemingly inevitable overcrowding of medical facilities.
Hogan has made the decision to activate 5,000 trained public health volunteers through the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps, and said that under his executive order, medical professionals who hold licenses in other states or who have an expired license to practice in Maryland will be able to practice during the state of emergency.
The state is also attempting to re-open closed hospitals, allowing for the addition of 6,000 open beds.
Phillips said that the state currently is operating with approximately 9,000 hospital beds.
The deputy Health secretary also addressed the state of Maryland’s medical equipment. Reports out of hard-hit countries like Italy have centered around a lack of adequate supplies ― notably ventilators ― used to keep patients suffering acute respiratory infections alive.
Phillips said that they are relying “in part” on the Strategic National Stockpile to supplement the state’s current supply of not only ventilators but protective gear for health care workers.
She said they are beginning to receive supply shipments now.