ANNAPOLIS — Effective at 5 p.m., all nonessential businesses, organizations, establishments and facilities in Maryland will close, Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday announced in his latest effort to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The state has 288 confirmed cases of the disease.
Over the weekend, Maryland saw a 678% increase in the number of positive cases, Hogan said.
Reported cases as of Monday morning were in 21 of 24 Maryland counties, and 635 cases were in the greater Washington, D.C., region.
While many Marylanders have taken seriously Hogan's warnings to practice social distancing, crowds of people over the weekend gathered in places including Ocean City.
"If you are engaged in this kind of activity, you are breaking the law, and you are literally endangering the lives of your family, your friends, and your fellow citizens," Hogan said.
Because of the "irresponsible and reckless behavior," nonessential services must be closed to prevent social gatherings.
"It's a terrible choice," Hogan said of having to close businesses in order to save lives.
Essential services include healthcare, pharmaceutical, food supply, law enforcement, emergency, energy, water, transportation, public works and critical manufacturing.
Specifically, businesses that can remain open include lodging, building and maintenance companies, janitorial firms, places that sell supplies and materials for maintenance of commercial and residential buildings including “big box” home improvement supply stores; plumbing, electrical, and HVAC distributors; laundry services; broadcasting, cable TV, internet service providers and cellular and landline telephone companies; banks and lending institutions; alcoholic beverage stores and distributors, distilleries, and wineries; and various manufacturing facilities.
Door-to-door solicitation, even by businesses that are permitted to remain open, is to be discontinued.
"We are not issuing or ordering a shelter-in-place directive or forcing people to stay home," Hogan said. "We are telling you, unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, then you should stay in your homes."
While saving lives is the governor's first priority, he said he's concerned that many businesses and industries could face tremendous economic harm.
"This is an exceptionally challenging time," he said.
Over the past several weeks, U.S. governors from both political parties have united and "pushed for a more robust and aggressive federal response," he said.
"As chairman of the National Governors Association, we submitted several priorities to the president and vice president last Thursday," Hogan said. "While we've seen some progress ... we're still pushing very hard for major economic stimulus (and) monies to go directly to the states."
Hogan said he and other governors planned to again raise the issues with White House leadership on Monday afternoon.
He addressed the need to help unemployed and displaced workers across Maryland.
"Governors are leading on the front line of this crisis," Hogan said. "We need Congress to work together to support our efforts. This is no time for partisan disfunction."
He discussed a number of new financial support and incentive programs and grants for businesses across the state.
A $175 million comprehensive business relief program has been established.
"This will bring together resources from two of our key state agencies," he said of state commerce and labor departments. "Our unemployment insurance program is ramped up and is dedicated to helping employees and employers who've been affected by COVID-19."
Folks who have been laid off can immediately file an unemployment claim via phone, email or online, Hogan said.
"Unlike other states, Maryland has no waiting period whatsoever," he said.
The governor's office started a fund that will provide an additional $7 million to help small businesses retain employees during the COVID-19 crisis.
"Maryland small businesses can apply for up to $50,000 in flexible funding to help continue operations and keep their employees on the payroll," Hogan said.
Through the state commerce department, a new $75 million fund will help small businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees that have lost revenue due to the pandemic.
Hogan issued an order to protect families from price gouging.
"This covers all essential household items and commodities," he said. "Retailers who attempt to exploit this crisis for profit and gain will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law."
Hogan talked of some businesses, such as alcohol distilleries that are making hand sanitizer, using resources to help battle COVID-19.
The state is looking for companies that can provide supplies including personal protective equipment for medical workers, and a fund has been established to help such manufacturers.
The governor enacted an emergency order to authorize a fast-track process for more COVID-19 testing capacity without waiting for FDA approval.
"Health care providers are now required to prioritize tests for hospitalized patients and healthcare providers will cease elective procedures," Hogan said.
The Allegany County Health Department on Monday via press release said 141 people have tested negative for COVID-19, and test results are pending for 23 additional residents.
“At this time, there are no lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Allegany County," the release stated.
"However, this doesn’t mean that the virus isn’t present in our community,” Jenelle Mayer, health officer said. “Community members should take precautions and practice social distancing to prevent the spread of disease.”
That means people should stay home and only go out for essentials, wash hands often and disinfect high-touch surfaces.
"If you are not feeling well, avoid contact with others," the release stated. "And if you are seeking medical care, call ahead so your healthcare provider can offer guidance over the phone and take the necessary precautions if you must come into the office."
Laboratories are experiencing a surge in COVID-19 tests, which are prioritized for hospitalized patients, symptomatic healthcare workers and emergency responders, symptomatic patients who are medically fragile and live in congregate housing such as nursing homes, and symptomatic high-risk unstable patients whose care would be altered by a diagnosis of COVID-19.
“Testing today for COVID-19 is not as simple as it sounds,” Allegany and Garrett County Deputy Health Officer Dr. Jennifer Corder stated. “Testing supplies are in short supply, and labs are unable to keep up with the nationwide demand. As a community, we need to prioritize testing for our sickest and most at risk. Speak to your health care provider over the phone to determine if your case requires COVID-19 testing.”
The Cumberland Times-News on Monday asked state officials for the number of people tested for COVID-19 in each Maryland county.
"We are in the midst of developing a process to provide timely testing number data from the (Maryland Health Department,)" spokesman Charles Gischlar said via email. "We will provide additional information as soon as it is available."
Check back at times-news.com for updates.