Sun editorial board: Amid coronavirus spread, Gov. Hogan must close nonessential gathering places, including bars and movie theaters | COMMENTARY

Last week, Gov. Larry Hogan announced the first case of community transmission of the coronavirus in Maryland and measures to reduce its spread, including school closures. Now he must close bars and other non-essential gathering places.

We appreciate that Gov. Larry Hogan has issued an emergency order closing casinos, racetracks and simulcast betting facilities in an effort to mitigate the spread of coronavirus. But he also must call for the closure of all nonessential gathering places — including bars, eat-in restaurants, movie theaters and malls.

Maryland was ahead in its approach to coronavirus with a swift decision to close schools and limit other public gatherings. We must not lose ground now by failing to act in other areas. Ohio and Illinois shuttered bars and restaurants Sunday, and Ireland — the home of St. Patrick — also called for the closure of pubs.


There is no point to closing schools and casinos and working from home where possible if we’re still meeting at playgrounds, going out to dinner and shopping for retail therapy. We realize there are livelihoods at risk here, but the actual lives at stake take precedence.

If we don’t take drastic measures to keep people apart, we will not slow the spread of the disease to a level our health care system can handle. And if we don’t “flatten the curve,” as it’s called, thousands more people will die from coronavirus across the country. It’s really that simple. The disease is new, and there is no pre-existing immunity to it. It’s fast spreading, highly contagious and has a mortality rate that’s worse than influenza’s.


That requires making the tough calls, at the government level and the personal. Individuals must choose to postpone weddings, cancel spring travel, forego playdates. Order groceries online, if you can, or have dinner delivered if you don’t cook. Restaurants that don’t deliver or offer carryout should consider starting. It’s time to hunker down, whether you’re in a high risk group — older and ill — or not.

Breaking News Alerts

As it happens

Be informed of breaking news as it happens and notified about other don't-miss content with our free news alerts.

Unfortunately, Baltimore bars were packed Friday and Saturday nights in anticipation of St. Patrick’s Day — a perverse kind of pandemic party. Shame on the revelers. They may be 25 and “invincible,” but their Nana and Pop Pop likely are not. And beer is not an antiviral. Some city bars chose on their own to close Sunday, and good for them. But you can’t manage a pandemic on a volunteer basis.

Governor Hogan acknowledged the dangers in a tweet around noon Sunday, writing that “anyone who hosts or is part of the crowds in bars this weekend is jeopardizing the health of others and must avoid any contact with family members or friends over the age of 60 or those with underlying health conditions.”

An hour later, he followed up with a threat to criminally charge “bars, restaurants, and other non-essential businesses across the state” that don’t comply with his earlier “executive order prohibiting mass gatherings.”

Problem is, the governor’s mass gathering is defined as a group of more than 250 people — the magic number in both Washington D.C. and three counties of Washington state, as well. This somehow sends a message that 250, 249, 248 is just fine. Yet, two dozen may be too much in these times.

Retailers are beginning to recognize this. Apple announced Friday it was closing stores outside of greater China for the next two weeks. Urban Outfitters said it’s closing stores worldwide; Nike is shutting doors in multiple countries, including the U.S.; Walmart is modifying its hours. On Sunday, Howard County Executive Calvin Ball also announced the closure of The Mall in Columbia and other commercial gathering places for a week, after the first case of coronavirus was confirmed in the county. These moves are being made to protect employees, but also the wider public. They are severe, they are necessary, and more entities must take similar steps.

Many companies will be hit hard. The U.S. Small Business Administration has been directed to provide low-interest loans to those hurt by the outbreak, but it won’t make up for all the lost revenue and wages. And that is a difficult reality. But this is a difficult time, and we all must adapt — fast.

Governor Hogan has been telling us for the past week to prepare for major disruptions in our lives. Now, he must take the next step and implement them.