Maryland bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms closed their doors Monday under an unprecedented order by Gov. Larry Hogan designed to slow the coronavirus outbreak, which he said is going to be “much worse” than most people expect.
The governor also said at an Annapolis news conference that the state is seeking to add thousands more hospital beds so the current facilities don’t become overloaded.
The mass closures took effect at 5 p.m. Grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and other essential services remain open.
At Avenue Kitchen & Bar in Hampden, which has festive strings of lights below its striped awning, a sign on the door explained that because of the virus, the restaurant was “currently offering take-out or curbside pickup only,” which Hogan’s order permits, along with delivery.
The governor seemed to be sounding an alarm with his tone Monday, as well as his actions, and hoping Marylanders were listening. He said the new restrictions are disruptive and “may seem scary,” but that “we have never faced anything like this before.”
“We should continue to expect the number of cases to dramatically and rapidly rise,” he said. “This is going to be much harder, take much longer and be much worse than almost anyone is currently understanding."
“We should continue to expect the number of cases to dramatically and rapidly rise. This is going to be much harder, take much longer and be much worse than almost anyone is currently understanding.”— Gov. Larry Hogan
Hogan, a second-term Republican, said it was imperative that states act in the absence of clear direction they have received from the federal government.
“The governors are really leading and taking charge in their individual states and are acting on what they think is the best thing,” he said. “Because while the federal government has had some guidelines — which are changing — they have not given clear directives.”
On Sunday, Republican President Donald Trump declared that the nation faced “a very contagious virus,” but “it’s something that we have tremendous control over.” By Monday afternoon, however, Trump’s tone became more somber and he issued new guidelines reading: “Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.”
Hogan said in national news interviews Monday night that Trump was improving his messaging about the seriousness of the coronavirus and the federal government appears to be more focused on limiting the spread of the virus.
Hogan, who is president of the National Governors Association, was on a conference call with Trump and other governors Monday after Hogan’s news conference in Annapolis.
“It was a much different tone than some of the discussions in the past,” Hogan told CNN host Wolf Blitzer.
Blitzer asked Hogan to address comments that the president reportedly made on the call that governors should work on their own to get ventilators and other needed medical equipment.
“I think there’s a little bit of confusion about what he said,” said Hogan, suggesting some governors may have misconstrued the president’s remarks. “We are working to get them on our own and we are also pushing the federal government to get them.”
With Maryland under a state of emergency, Hogan previously closed schools and prohibited large gatherings and events of more than 250 people. That was in keeping with U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommendations.
But the CDC has since recommended that events with 50 or more people be canceled or postponed. Hogan ordered Maryland to follow suit. The order limiting gatherings to 50 people applies to social, community, religious and recreational or sports activities.
“These emergency orders carry the full force of the law,” the governor said.
Other steps taken by Hogan included ordering state health officials to assess whether closed hospitals could reopen and other steps to increase capacity by 6,000 beds.
Hogan said the state “wants to get those 6,000 beds up to speed as fast as possible. We’re looking into the possibility of all the closed hospitals that we can get back online.”
Maryland currently has about 8,000 hospital beds, according to Frances Phillips, , the state’s deputy secretary for public health services, who spoke after Hogan. She said the additional beds may be needed for “acute care.”
It wasn’t immediately clear where the 6,000 beds would come from. Hospitals are required to have plans to expand their capacity somewhat within their buildings in times of emergency. Charles Gischlar, a state health department spokesman, said an “initial plan outline should be in place within a week to 10 days” for the surge.
It’s unknown exactly how many more beds will be needed, though projections suggest the state currently falls short.
Hospital officials have said they also would need additional staff to treat the extra patients. To that end, Hogan activated a unit of 5,000 trained volunteers called the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps. Others with valid out-of-state medical licenses will be allowed to practice in Maryland, as will those with inactive state licenses.
Bob Atlas, president & CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association said state hospitals and his organization are working with the state health department “to meet the needs of potential COVID-19 patients.”
“We are working together to understand how many additional beds can be activated and gathering a clear understanding of staffing and supplies needed to support the increase in hospital beds,” Atlas said.
Hogan said utilities — including electric, gas, water, sewer, phone, cable TV and internet companies — are prohibited for now from shutting off residential customers or charging late fees. And he barred the eviction of any tenant during the state of emergency.
“By these actions, we’re going to stop the spread and we’re going to save lives," Hogan said. “We’re hopefully starting early enough to stop some of the things that happened in, say, Italy.”
Italy, which has the highest death rate from the virus, has imposed severe restrictions on citizens’ movements.
In the United States, “I don’t think any of us can predict what steps will be taken in the next couple days or weeks,” U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin said in a conference call with reporters. “I think we have to anticipate that there will be more measures imposed for social distancing, and that may well be interpreted as a lockdown.”
The governor said 1,000 Maryland National Guard soldiers and airmen have been activated and another 1,200 are ready to be deployed.
Maryland officials are trying still to secure more coronavirus test kits to gauge the extent of the spread of COVID-19 and identify problem areas. Hogan said the state is working with the federal government to obtain drive-thru testing for the virus.
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Phillips said Maryland, like the rest of the country, is "experiencing a shortage. This is a shortage of the kits and actually the chemicals that go into the lab processing of these tests.”
She said Hogan was trying to work with federal officials to undo a “logjam” over testing kits.
The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Maryland rose to at least 44 Monday, according to figures from the Maryland Health Department and local officials.
There have been 15 confirmed cases in Montgomery County, 10 in Prince George’s, four each in Anne Arundel, Baltimore and Howard counties, two in Harford County, two in Baltimore City and one each in Carroll, Charles and Talbot counties.
The second Baltimore City case, announced Monday, is a woman in her 20s.
Health officials in Anne Arundel and Howard said that each went from one to four cases Monday. In Howard, the new cases are a man in his 40s who is on dialysis in a hospital, a man in his 50s with underlying health conditions who is self-isolating at home, and a woman in her 70s who also is self-isolating at home.
Baltimore Sun Media’s Meredith Cohn, Kenneth Lam, Hallie Miller and Olivia Sanchez contributed to this article