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Maryland opens statewide hotline to report potential coronavirus distancing violations

Maryland has opened a statewide hotline to report potential violations of executive orders meant to stem the spread of COVID-19, contrasting Gov. Larry Hogan’s previous statements urging local jurisdictions to take more control over enforcing the orders.

In a release, the state said the toll-free “COVID Prevention Line” is a joint effort between Maryland’s Emergency Management Agency, Department of Health and State Police to respond to concerns residents may have about people not exercising proper social distancing or otherwise not taking necessary precautions in light of the pandemic.

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The state wrote in its release the hotline is “to facilitate a statewide communication process for citizens to report concerns about potential situations where precautions are being ignored that will prompt follow-up by local health officials and, if necessary, law enforcement officials.”

The hotline — which can be reached by calling 1-833-979-2266 or by sending an email to prevent.covid@maryland.gov — is open 24 hours a day and callers can remain anonymous, the release reads.

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While the state has created a centralized communications hub to help field complaints, Hogan had previously placed the onus on local and county leaders to enforce public health orders.

Last month, as Hogan required people over the age of 5 years old to wear masks inside public buildings, the governor said that he would not commit state resources, such as state law enforcement officers, to help local governments in their enforcement.

I hope people would just do their jobs,” Hogan said at the time.

In the release, the state wrote that information provided to the hotline “will be forwarded to local health department officials in the jurisdiction of the location or situation described in the call” and that the appropriate enforcement authority will be mobilized, if necessary.

The release did not address executive orders authored by municipal leaders that are more restrictive than Hogan’s, such as the one that went into effect in Baltimore City, which restricted indoor dining to 25% capacity last week.

In an email, Maryland State Police spokesman Greg Shipley wrote that once the calls are sent to local health officials, they will then act in accordance with that jurisdiction’s standing executive orders and decide appropriate action from there.

The release reads that any individual found violating Gov. Hogan’s order “could be charged with a violation of that order, which carries a penalty of up to one year in jail, a $5,000 fine, or both.”

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