Gov. Larry Hogan ordered an early closing time for Maryland’s bars, banned fans from stadiums and set new limits on hospitals and nursing homes in hopes of slowing a troubling wave of coronavirus cases.
As he announced the new rules, which go into effect at 5 p.m. Friday, the Republican governor pleaded with Marylanders not to let their guard down.
“This is not the flu. It’s not fake news. It’s not going to magically disappear just because we’re all tired of it and we want our normal lives back," Hogan warned during a news conference Tuesday.
“We are in a war right now and the virus is winning. Now, more than ever, I’m pleading with the people of our state to stand together awhile longer to help us battle this surging virus," he added. “Your family and your friends are counting on you. Your neighbors are counting on you. And your fellow Marylanders are counting on you to stay ‘Maryland Strong.'”
The governor’s announcements included:
- All bars and restaurants must close between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., except for carryout and delivery. That includes bars and restaurants inside casinos, the gambling areas of which the state allows to operate at half capacity.
- Retail businesses, including grocery stores, can operate at 50% capacity.
- Religious institutions can operate at 50% capacity.
- No fans are allowed at horse tracks and professional and collegiate stadiums. The Baltimore Ravens and the Washington Football Team, which plays in Prince George’s County, had already announced fans could not attend their home games Sunday.
- Hospital visits are suspended, with exceptions for patients who are dying, giving birth, are minors, or have disabilities.
- Doctors and hospitals are urged to avoid admitting patients for elective procedures, especially if they might require intensive care, ventilator treatment or inpatient rehabilitation.
- Nursing home visits are suspended, except in cases involving “compassionate care.” In those cases, visitors must show a recent negative coronavirus test.
- Nursing homes must test residents weekly and employees twice weekly.
”I realize that this is very difficult, especially at this time of year, to be unable to see your grandparents or your loved ones," Hogan said, but added that these actions would save the lives of the most vulnerable.
Though the ban on most visitors to nursing homes will be difficult, it was the right call, said Joseph DeMattos, president and CEO of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.
Increasing testing to twice weekly for staff and weekly for residents “won’t be easy to execute or fund, but it is the right thing to do,” DeMattos said.
Additionally, the Maryland Department of Health issued a “surge order” allowing hospitals that are full or nearly full to transfer patients to other hospitals. The goal is to alleviate crowding as the number of coronavirus patients climbs.
Hospitals were treating 1,046 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday — a dramatic increase from less than two months ago, when hospitalizations hit a low of 281 patients.
Hogan also said he is doubling the number of “rapid response teams” the state can deploy to nursing homes experiencing outbreaks. The teams help with technical assistance, infection control and staffing. Over the next two weeks, the program will increase to 20 teams, each with two or three members.
The actions come as the state experiences a rise in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths. Nearly 170,000 Marylanders have contracted the virus since March and 4,186 have died, including 26 deaths reported Tuesday.
The changes will place a burden on already-struggling store owners and restaurateurs, said Mike O’Halloran, state director of the National Federation of Independent Business. He said he hopes the restrictions are short-lived.
“This is a very sad day for Maryland small businesses,” O’Halloran said in a statement. “Today’s announcement by Governor Hogan will be a very tough pill to swallow for so many of the state’s job creators.”
Hogan said the restrictions are necessary because there’s been a “large uptick” in people who have been exposed to the virus in bars and restaurants.
“People are just less likely to follow public health advice after 10 o’clock, after drinking for a long time in a bar,” Hogan said.
Hogan’s announcement came as some restaurants had just begun to return to normal.
October was the first month since the pandemic began that Sean Bolan’s Irish Pub in Bel Air had made close to as much revenue as it did in 2019, said co-owner Dan Brown.
After the shutdown went into effect in the spring of this year, “We were doing 20% of what we did last year.”
Having already lost one of the restaurant’s biggest moneymakers for the year, St. Patrick’s Day, Brown fears that with the spike of new infections and spate of new restrictions, he’s on pace to lose Christmas season revenue, too.
In Fells Point, Candace Beattie now shuts down her Thames Street Oyster House early each night to avoid becoming a hot spot for late-night partyers. Given the recent surge of COVID-19 cases, she said the statewide 10 p.m. closing time is “a good start.”
Beattie has limited her restaurant to outdoor service only and taken patrons' temperatures. But not every business is so careful, she said, and some “operate like nothing ever happened.”
In Westminster, Jim Breuer, who has owned Maggie’s Restaurant for 30 years, said the new restrictions are “not enough to make a big difference.” The restaurant does get some late-night weekend bar traffic, but not enough for a 10 p.m. closing time to have a major impact.
One way for people to help restaurants is for them to order carryout for Thanksgiving, said Marshall Weston, CEO of the Restaurant Association of Maryland. His group estimates that 150,000 workers have been furloughed or laid off, and restaurants have lost $1.4 billion in sales due to the pandemic.
“This holiday season has never been more critical to the survival of the local restaurant industry,” he said.
Hogan emphasized that the best way to prevent the spread of the virus is to wear a mask. A statewide order requiring masks in public — including outdoors when physical distancing isn’t possible — remains in effect.
“This is not a political issue,” he said. “It’s not a limitation on your right to infect other people. But it is the best way to keep you and your family members safe, to keep people out of the hospital and to save lives.”
One encouraging aspect of the pandemic is that doctors and nurses have learned how to better treat the virus, said Dr. Thomas Scalea, physician-in-chief for the University of Maryland Medical Center’s R Adams Cowley Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore.
“We’re a ton better,” said Scalea, who apologized for wearing Shock Trauma’s signature pink scrubs to the news conference, explaining he’d come straight from surgery. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and I don’t remember learning this much about a single disease over such a short period of time.”
But progress doesn’t mean every patient makes it, Scalea cautioned.
“We’ve got a bunch more weapons. We understand how to use them,” he said. “But they’re not universally successful.”
Hogan said he will take part Thursday in a call with other governors with Democratic President-elect Joe Biden and his transition team. He also said he talked Monday with Republican Vice President Mike Pence.
Tuesday’s announcements represent an escalation of Hogan’s actions since a week ago, when he warned Maryland was in a “danger zone” and ordered bars and restaurants to operate at 50% capacity, down from 75%. He also encouraged people not to gather in groups of more than 25.
Several Baltimore-area jurisdictions tightened rules further, with Baltimore City, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore County and Howard County limiting private indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people. Baltimore City limited the Horseshoe Casino to 25% capacity, below the state level of 50%.
The virus has become problematic in the state’s rural counties, including those in Western Maryland. State data shows that Allegany and Garrett counties have seen the most cases per 1,000 residents among state jurisdictions in the past 14 days.
The governor said that rural residents might not have worn masks or followed other public health advice.
“I think certain people out there had a false sense of security that, ‘Oh, that’s you know, it’s very concerning. But I don’t have to worry about that because I live out here in this rural neighborhood,’” Hogan said.
Now, the governor said, people are hopefully paying attention.
“It just shows that it doesn’t matter where you live or what demographic group you happen to fall into. The virus doesn’t care. It doesn’t recognize county borders or state borders,” Hogan said. “It’s coming for all of us.”
Baltimore Sun reporters Meredith Cohn, Ben Leonard and Christina Tkacik and Baltimore Sun Media Group reporter Pat Stoetzer contributed to this article.