As the state sees its first COVID-19-related death, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced further restrictions on Marylanders Thursday in the face of the pandemic.
“Some people are treating this like a vacation or a spring break, with parties and cookouts and large gatherings in some of our parks,” he said. “Let me be very clear: 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.”
Hogan publicly announced Maryland’s first death from the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday night: A Prince George’s County resident in his 60’s with underlying health conditions.
He said that the man contracted the virus through means of community transmission.
“Unfortunately, we are only at the beginning of this crisis,” Hogan said at an Annapolis news conference. “While this is the first death here in Maryland, unfortunately, it will not be the last.”
He also reported Thursday morning the first instance of a child who has contracted the virus in the state: a 5-year-old girl in Howard County.
Maryland has now seen 107 confirmed cases — an 88% jump in a mere 48 hours.
To avoid overwhelming hospitals, the governor announced an initiative to re-open closed hospitals, which he projected would open an additional 6,000 beds. Since that announcement earlier this week, 900 beds have been made available with the aim of opening another 500 by early April.
Hogan said that he has amended an executive order issued last week that banned social gatherings of 50 or more people to now just 10 or more.
Additionally, all shopping malls must close beginning Thursday evening.
In an effort to aid small businesses and reduce crowds, Hogan is lifting regulations to allow for the home delivery of alcohol.
The governor also urged for the limited use of public transit like MARC and Metro trains for emergency medical personnel and essential supply chain workers only. Additionally, he has asked the state Department of Transportation to limit access to the Baltimore Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport terminal to passengers with tickets and employees with badges.
He said that the airport restriction will be immediately enforced by the Maryland Transportation Authority Police.
As of now, Hogan said he has no plans to implement a shelter-in-place policy or to restrict travel.
The governor stated that he has been in contact with members of the University System of Maryland Board of Regents, asking them to consider ordering all state colleges to finish out the spring semester online — an action he said that other universities in the state have already taken.
The regents have scheduled an emergency meeting for 5 p.m. Thursday.
State public schools are to remain closed through next week, with no clear indication of when they might re-open. To reduce instances of child hunger that may result from their closing, over 350 centers for school-aged children to receive free meals have been opened across the state.
As the chairman of the National Governors Association, Hogan has been in constant contact with his fellow chief executives across the country in the weeks since the pandemic has hit the U.S. He said that during a call Wednesday, he and other governors outlined five proposals that they will offer to President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence in a phone call Thursday afternoon, including:
- Applying a minimum of 50% of funds from the phase three supplemental federal budget directly to states
- Increasing the production of and access to supplies like test kits and ventilators
- The activation of U.S. code Title 32, which would allow governors a “joint command” of the National Guard on the part of both governors and the president
- More concrete guidance from federal lawmakers on how the Defense Production Act will be implemented. The Defense Production Act, which Trump authorized Wednesday, gives the president the authority to direct private companies to make necessary supplies.
- A time delay for states to complete the Real ID standard and the 2020 Census
The governor said he will also be speaking with leaders in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives, from the Washington region and Maryland counties in a series of separate calls on Thursday afternoon.
At the end of the news conference, Hogan was asked about calls made by state’s attorneys for the release of nonviolent and elderly inmates in state prisons who might be vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
On Wednesday, Baltimore City State’s Attorney Marilyn J. Mosby (D) announced that she will be directing city prosecutors to drop charges and release people held for nonviolent offenses such as drug possession and distribution.
Hogan said he has not received a proposal, but will consider those offered by any of the state’s attorneys. He also suggested that prisoners are more protected from the virus behind bars.
“They’re safer where they are,” the governor said. “I’m not sure it’s a great idea.”
Prisoner rights advocates have called for Hogan to publicly reject that notion in a letter issued Wednesday.
“It is widely acknowledged among public health experts that people in prisons and jails are particularly vulnerable to the spread of the virus, and yet least able to protect themselves without state action,” they wrote.