Trying to head off an alarming rise in coronavirus cases and heading into colder months, Maryland courts halted trials and a number of counties put tighter restrictions in place on restaurants, social gatherings and youth sports Thursday.
The state’s top judge shut down civil and criminal trials until at least January.
“The health and safety of the public, judges, and Judiciary staff remains a top priority, and we will continue to monitor the COVID-19 health emergency and adjust Judiciary operations as necessary,” Maryland Court of Appeals Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said in issuing her order.
Gov. Larry Hogan did not take additional actions Thursday, two days after he ordered new restrictions on restaurants and issued fresh guidance on out-of-state travel and large gatherings. But he urged Marylanders again to heed public health warnings in order to curb the spread of the virus.
“We are experiencing an out-of-control spike across the United States and we are seeing widespread community transmission here in Maryland,” Hogan said at a news conference at the State House in Annapolis.
“The sad truth is, the next several months will likely be by far the most difficult that we have faced,” the Republican governor said.
The state has reported nine consecutive days with at least 1,000 new infections, and hospitalizations have risen to 863, an increase of more than 200 just since Sunday and a doubling in the past month. Another key measure — the rate of new infections — also has doubled in recent weeks to 22.82 cases per 100,000 people.
Since the state started tracking the coronavirus in March, there have been nearly 159,900 confirmed cases and 4,112 deaths.
Anne Arundel and Prince George’s counties put new limits Thursday on the capacity of restaurants and ordered residents not to have indoor gatherings of more than 10 people. Those actions followed new restrictions announced in the past week by Baltimore City and Montgomery County.
Anne Arundel will shut down recreational athletics in the county, starting Monday. Harford County also took aim at youth sports, suspending indoor recreation programs and outdoor sports, including tournaments.
Harford is closing county facilities to the public and authorizing county government employees to telework until further notice, according to an announcement from County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican.
“We really are in a war with this virus and we have done well. We have won some battles,” said Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat. “We cannot afford to desert in the middle of this, as we’re nearing the end of this, we believe. So, stick with us, please.”
“We really need to hunker down. That is the message of the day,” said Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks, a Democrat. “We are in the midst of another surge.”
Some local leaders said they’ve been acting in the absence of strict statewide measures. Hogan on Tuesday ordered restaurants to 50% capacity for indoor dining, down from 75%.
Pittman said that because of requirements to keep tables 6 feet apart and limits on the number of patrons per table, many restaurants could not achieve 75% capacity anyway — so Hogan’s order made little difference. Pittman ordered county restaurants down to 25% capacity indoors starting Nov. 20, and encouraged residents to order takeout and “tip generously.”
Hogan said Thursday he’s “very comfortable” with the decisions he’s made and noted that Maryland’s metrics are better than those of about 40 other states.
In Baltimore City, where previously announced restrictions, including an 11 p.m. end to indoor dining at restaurants, went into effect Thursday, Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa expressed concern about a rising rate of people hospitalized with COVID-19.
“We’re seeing this steady increase of more individuals in the hospital because of COVID,” she said. “The concern always is that there tends to be a few days' lag once we start to see this big surge [of new cases]. It may be a little while before we start to see individuals in the ICU.”
Also, the city has recorded the second-most cases per capita in the past two weeks among all the state’s jurisdictions, behind only hard-hit Allegany County.
Other counties have not moved to enact new restrictions this week, including Baltimore, Carroll and Howard yet, though Baltimore County seems poised to.
Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. planned to announce “new public health efforts” Friday, according to a news release.
Meanwhile, the Carroll Board of Commissioners voted Thursday only to extend the county’s state of emergency.
Hogan said he and other governors are making decisions in the face of a vacuum of leadership from the federal government. The nation’s governors previously had weekly calls with a federal task force led by Vice President Mike Pence, but Hogan said the governors haven’t heard from the White House since before Election Day.
“It is really becoming a problem in that I think the people in the White House are focused on, you know, fighting the elections and the people in the Biden administration don’t have any information and haven’t taken over,” Hogan said.
There was no immediate White House comment Thursday evening, spokesman Peter Hoffman said.
Hogan reiterated the need for more federal aid to citizens and state and local governments, and lamented the dysfunction in Washington that has left negotiations for additional stimulus in a logjam.
“We don’t see any action out of Congress, either. Still bickering, still fighting, still not reaching compromise,” Hogan said, “which is very frustrating to us that are out here trying to save lives.”
Earlier in the week, Hogan cautioned Marylanders against traveling out of state to most areas and encouraged indoor gatherings of no more than 25 people, but those actions were suggestions, not requirements. He said Thursday that he was “taking my own advice” by not having a large family dinner for Thanksgiving, instead planning a meal with his wife, Yumi.
“I was going to have my three daughters and my three son-in-laws and my four grandkids over to the governor’s mansion for a nice Thanksgiving,” he said. “And we made the determination to cancel all those plans. Everybody is going to stay home with their immediate families.”
Hogan also announced Thursday how $70 million more of the state’s more than $2 billion in federal CARES Act money would be spent, including $20 million to stockpile more personal protective equipment, $15 million to help a labor department swamped with unemployment claims, $10 million for rent relief for low-income tenants, $10 million for continued planning for a coronavirus vaccination program and $10 million for food banks.
Baltimore Sun reporters Phillip Jackson and Ben Leonard and Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters S. Wayne Carter Jr., Donovan Conaway, Brooks DuBose and Ana Faguy contributed to this article.