Maryland to step up enforcement of coronavirus restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving with help of state police

Maryland is ramping up enforcement of coronavirus restrictions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday as the pandemic surges just as people usually gather with family and socialize in bars, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday.

In addition to family gatherings on the holiday itself, the night before Thanksgiving has become one of the biggest bar-hopping nights of the year as people return to their hometowns and catch up with old friends over drinks.


“I cannot emphasize how reckless that behavior would be this year,” the Republican governor said during a news conference in the State House rotunda in Annapolis.

Health officials already have advised people to celebrate Thanksgiving with their immediate households only, and Maryland’s bars and restaurants have a state-mandated 10 p.m. closing time.


“These important safety measures and public health orders are only effective if they are being followed and enforced,” Hogan said.

To that end, the Maryland State Police will send out “high visibility compliance units” to Bel Air, Towson, Salisbury, Silver Spring, Baltimore’s Fells Point neighborhood and Allegany County, which has experienced the worst infection rate in the state in recent weeks.

Extra state troopers also will be assigned to work with local police and health officials on education and enforcement of the pandemic restrictions, which also include capacity limits, physical distancing requirements and rules that patrons must be seated in order to be served. They will focus on all venues that host gatherings, such as bars, restaurants and banquet halls. The state also is expanding its 24-hour hotline for reporting violations, which can be reached via 833-979-2266 or

Enforcement has been a challenge for local government officials and bar owners alike, with some owners reporting that it’s difficult to keep track of rules that vary from one county to the next. A few of Baltimore’s bars have cycled through closing and quickly reopening after being found in violation of the pandemic restrictions. In Edgewater, two ice cream store employees were assaulted when asking patrons to put on masks.

The increased enforcement will focus initially on Wednesday and Thursday, though state officials said the Maryland State Police will be available to provide assistance as needed to local jurisdictions over the coming weeks.

Some local governments already have stepped up enforcement efforts, Hogan said, including the city of Frederick, which will beef up its compliance checks on Thanksgiving Eve. He also commended Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. for forming a task force to inspect more than 7,000 establishments to ensure COVID-19 compliance.

“This is a matter of life and death,” said Olszewski, who attended the news conference with Hogan. “If too many people violate the rules, we are left with no choice.”

Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, a vice dean for public health practice at Johns Hopkins University and former head of the state and city health departments, said enforcement alone may not combat the new surge of infections, hospitalizations and deaths.


He referred to the next few weeks as “the last great battle of COVID-19,” and called on individuals and elected officials to match the heightened severity of the moment. Other states already have taken more aggressive action, such as closing bars and indoor dining completely, he said.

“We have to be smart now,” said Sharfstein, adding that more restrictions might be needed as the state’s supply of health care workers and hospital space shrinks. “This is a very serious situation. It’s really important for people to avoid giving the virus the opportunity to spread.”

Hogan will use a statewide emergency alert system at 5 p.m. Wednesday to blast out a message to cell phones about pandemic rules and enforcement. The last time the state sent such a message was when Hogan issued a “stay at home” order on March 31.

The governor said people refusing to heed public health advice are acting as if they have a right to spread the virus just as if they had the freedoms to drive drunk, forgo a seat belt in a moving car or yell “fire” in a movie theater.

”What part don’t you understand?” he said. “You wear the mask.”


Hogan wore a black mask with red and white lettering reading, “Wear the damn mask” — a variation of Hogan’s admonition at a news conference last month that people should “just wear the damn masks.”

Marshall Weston, head of the Restaurant Association of Maryland, said people still can support their favorite bars and restaurants by following the rules when dining in or opting to order out instead.

“We are hopeful that everyone does their part to help reduce the spread of COVID so that restaurants, bars and other businesses can remain open and the restrictions will be lifted soon,” said Weston, who appeared alongside Hogan.

The focus on education and enforcement comes as there appears to be no end to the latest surge of the coronavirus in Maryland. The state reported another 1,658 people have the virus Monday — the 20th consecutive day of 1,000 or more new infections being reported.

The number of people hospitalized rose Monday to 1,276, which is quadruple what it was in early October and alarmed some public health experts and local officials who are calling for more actions from the state.

Before the news conference, Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman and Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, both Democrats, issued calls on social media for tighter statewide restrictions.


Local leaders have the authority to keep stricter measures in place than what the governor implements, and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball did so Monday. The Democrat extended a limitation on indoor gatherings of 10 people and outdoor gatherings of 25 people so that it now also applies to weddings, recreational sports and social clubs.

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Ball also canceled all county-run sports tournaments. Retail stores, offices, restaurants, religious gatherings, indoor theaters and outdoor entertainment venues still are excluded from the county’s restrictions.

“The alarms are sounding, and if you haven’t already, rethink any plans to host or attend a large gathering with family and friends,” Ball said in a statement.

Hogan did take several steps in the last two weeks to clamp down on activities that are thought to spur the spread of the virus. He ordered a 10 p.m. closing time for restaurants, limited capacity at stores and houses of worship to 50%, banned fans from sports stadiums and racetracks, and halted most visitation at hospitals and nursing homes.

Imploring people to take the virus seriously, Olszewski highlighted the death of Lisa Marie Alvey, a 49-year-old Whiting Turner executive and mother to a young son who died from COVID-19 after previously contracting breast cancer.

“The void she leaves behind, just like the void that everyone has left behind, has been immense,” Olszewski said. “Would you step in and do the same thing for your loved ones if their lives were on the line? …


“This Thanksgiving, skip the hugs and large family gatherings now so you can have them for years to come,” the county executive said. “And please, for the love of god, wear your mask. The end of the virus is coming. And that should motivate us … to do our part.”

Baltimore Sun Media reporters Olivia Sanchez and Ana Faguy and Baltimore Sun reporter Ben Leonard contributed to this article.