As the COVID-19 pandemic progresses throughout the state, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) announced several more measures Monday to aid Maryland businesses and consumers facing an uncertain future.
“We’ve been very aggressive,” Hogan said. “We’re hoping that these actions will help us not be as badly affected as some other states or to help slow the curve. But we also know we have not yet hit the peak.”
At the weekend’s close, Maryland confirmed 288 cases of COVID-19, seeing the virus reported in 21 of 24 jurisdictions.
“Unfortunately, many people are still not taking this seriously,” Hogan said, citing the large crowds at the Ocean City Boardwalk and at the Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, D.C., over the weekend.
In an effort to get more people on board with social distancing guidelines, Hogan enacted an executive order mandating the closing of all “non-essential businesses” by 5 p.m. Monday.
Essential businesses include those in health care, agriculture, food, energy, public safety, water, public works and transportation, among others.
The governor stated that this is not a shelter in place order like the one issued in neighboring Delaware Sunday.
“I think our actions are actually more aggressive than some states who have ordered shelter-in-place,” he said, adding that closing places where people gather is “a better, smarter action for us.”
The state is still pushing ahead in its effort to prevent the medical system from becoming overwhelmed.
Last week, Hogan said space has been found for 900 new hospital beds. Today he stated state officials are anticipating an additional 1,400 beds by early April.
To achieve this, Maryland is re-opening a number of facilities, including Laurel Hospital, as well as adding new facilities, like a field hospital outside of the Baltimore City Convention Center to be set up by the Maryland National Guard. Another facility will open across the street, at a Hilton Hotel, Hogan said.
The increase in beds comes along with an increase in testing. A pilot drive-thru program is set to be established at FedExField in Prince George’s County.
The state has cited a shortage of tests in recent days.
The governor on Monday also unveiled the Maryland COVID-19 Emergency Relief Manufacturing Fund — a $5 million incentivization plan for Maryland business to help replenish dwindling medical supplies like masks and respirators in the face of the crisis.
To offer consumer protection in the midst of the COVID-19 scare, Hogan has enacted an executive order to prevent price-gouging for everyday household essentials.
“Retailers who attempt to exploit this crisis for profit and gain will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.” Hogan said.
In spite of business closures, state and federal officials have been looking to ways to protect business owners and their workers in this time of crisis.
During the news conference, Hogan stated that Maryland is fighting “twin battles:” one combating the virus; the other combating the downturn in the state’s economy.
Last Thursday, Maryland was granted a statewide disaster declaration from the Small Business Administration, allowing business operators negatively affected by the pandemic to apply for low-interest disaster relief loans.
Hogan also has introduced a series of measures implemented at the state level to protect the businesses with 50 or fewer employees as they navigate through uncertain financial waters.
To protect workers who are at risk of losing their jobs, the Maryland Department of Labor has introduced the COVID-19 Layoff Aversion Fund, in an effort to allot $7 million in funding to help small businesses hang onto their employees through the duration of the pandemic.
Business owners can apply for grants that max out at $50,000 to keep things running regardless of closures — allowing them to purchase things like telework software or proper sanitizing equipment for workers who must continue physically reporting.
State Department of Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson said that the fund can also dole out a maximum of $50,000 to cover the cost of payroll for businesses that are enrolled in the state’s Work Sharing Unemployment Insurance Program.
Additionally, the Maryland Department of Commerce has rolled out two initiatives aimed at keeping small businesses open.
The Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Relief Grant Fund is a $50 million pool set to provide a maximum of $10,000 in grants for businesses and non-profits struggling to maintain operation during the pandemic.
Specifically for for-profits, The Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Relief Loan Fund is poised to provide up to $50,000 in low-interest loans to allow businesses to continue meeting rent and mortgage payments, among other general operating measures.
Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz said that the loans will have a zero percent interest rate for the first year.
In an email to Maryland Matters, Mike O’Halloran, Maryland state director of the National Federation of Independent Business, said the new loan and grant programs will provide “access to critical capital for Maryland small business.”
“Businesses are having a real tough time maintaining any sense of normalcy during this crisis,” he said. “We look forward to continuing to work with his Administration in making sure these small businesses can get back on their feet once this passes.”
A national survey of small businesses, released Monday by NFIB, found that 76% of small businesses have been negatively impacted by the outbreak of the coronavirus. About 5% are positively impacted — they are likely experiencing stronger sales due to a sharp rise in demand for certain products, goods, and services, the business group said.