A 5-year-old girl in Howard County became the first Maryland child to test positive for the new coronavirus, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday as he imposed new measures to slow the outbreak’s spread — including closing shopping malls and amusement parks and further limiting community gatherings.
The governor, at an Annapolis news conference, also urged residents to use transit only for essential travel and asked the University System of Maryland to finish the semester online.
The two-term Republican governor appeared exasperated that some Marylanders were not heeding previous warnings limiting large gatherings.
“Despite all of our repeated warnings for weeks and despite the rapid escalation of this virus across our state, the region, the nation and the world, some people are treating this like a vacation or a spring break with parties, cookouts and large gatherings at some of our parks,” he said.
"Let me be very clear. If you are engaged in this type of activity, you are in violation of state law and you are endangering the lives of your fellow Marylanders.”
He amended a previous executive order to require Marylanders to “reduce the size of social, cultural, and community gatherings to 10 people.” The order now mandates the closure of enclosed shopping malls, bowling alleys, pool halls, amusement parks and skating rinks.
Maryland added 22 more confirmed cases Thursday, reaching 107, but the 5-year-old was Maryland’s lone case of anyone under 18. There are 76 cases of coronavirus among Marylanders aged 18 to 64 and 30 in those 65 and older. Montgomery and Prince George’s counties remain those most affected, with 33 and 23 confirmed cases, respectively. There are eight confirmed cases in Baltimore City and 12 in Baltimore County.
Howard schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said in a systemwide email that he was made aware of the 5-year-old’s confirmed case by Hogan’s Thursday news conference.
The child attends Elkridge Elementary School. To protect the child’s privacy, the school system did not provide additional information.
Elkridge Elementary Principal Mike Caldwell has spoken with the family and will be reaching out to the school’s other families and staff, Martirano said.
“It saddens me greatly to know that this pandemic has now hit so close to home,” Martirano said.
Anticipating a surge in cases, Hogan said 900 new hospital beds have been made available and he expected 1,400 to be available by early April.
Hogan and Maryland legislators say they also are trying to minimize the economic harm the virus is inflicting on the state.
The governor, joined by House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson, signed legislation aimed at protecting Marylanders by barring price gouging and enhancing job protections related to the virus. The measure “protects Marylanders from the economic hardships that may result from this pandemic,” Hogan tweeted.
Later in the evening, speaking on WUSA-TV in Washington, Hogan said Maryland had received approval for local companies to apply for U.S. Small Business Administration disaster assistance programs created in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Maryland’s U.S. attorney warned residents to be on the lookout for potential scams and scammers, part of an effort to protect people from those trying to profit off the coronavirus.
Almost daily, Hogan has convened news conferences outdoors in Annapolis to outline and step up the state’s effort to limit the virus.
The measures have changed Marylanders’ daily lives in ways that would have been unimaginable a few weeks ago.
“This truly is one of the most daunting challenges our state has ever faced,” Hogan said. “But sometimes the worst times have a way of bringing out the very best in people."
On Monday, Hogan ordered bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms closed. Since then, an increasing number of retail outlets and malls — but not all — closed on their own.
Grocery stores, banks, pharmacies and other essential services remain open. Hogan said a new executive order is being issued allowing for delivery and carryout sales of alcohol by restaurants, bars, distilleries and wineries, subject to local regulations.
"But I want to urge people to be responsible and to avoid large crowds in stores,” he said.
Hogan also restricted access to the BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport terminal to ticketed passengers and necessary staff, and urged Marylanders to limit use of transit to essential personnel such as emergency and health care workers.
The governor did not announce new measures for Maryland schools, which were ordered closed from this past Monday until March 27. The state schools superintendent has been consulting regularly with officials of local school districts, he said.
Later Thursday, the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents met and it was announced that face-to-face classes are done for the remainder of the academic year for undergraduates at its 12 institutions. Arrangements for graduate students are not yet clear. Students will receive their room and board back on a pro-rated basis, and tuition and room and board payment deadlines for the next semester will be extended.
Hogan, the chairman of the National Governors Association, had earlier criticized the federal government for not giving “clear directives” to curb the pandemic. He joined other governors on a call Thursday with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence to push for equipment and other needs.
Maryland is seeking better supplies of coronavirus test kits, personal protective equipment for health care workers, and ventilators. Hogan said he also is seeking more flexibility for using the National Guard and more time to complete both the census and the transition to REAL ID, an initiative intended to make identity documents more secure.
Hogan also urged healthy residents to donate blood. The American Red Cross is seeking blood donations after drives were canceled amid coronarivus concerns.
“We’re all in this together," he said. “And if we all do our part, if we rise to this challenge to meet this moment, we will get through this together.”
Baltimore Sun Media reporters Liz Bowie, Jess Nocera and Pamela Wood contributed to this story.