In stepped-up efforts to fight the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Monday the state was ordering all nonessential companies to close, building makeshift hospitals in Baltimore and dedicating millions of dollars to help save small businesses.
The flurry of actions from the governor came as the Republican executive condemned some Marylanders for engaging in “irresponsible and reckless behavior" by gathering in large crowds in violation of an order limiting groups to 10. Hogan said the closure of additional businesses, including retail stores that had been allowed to remain open, was necessary to “slow the spread” of the COVID-19 pandemic in the state.
“Let me repeat, once again as strongly as I possibly can: If you are engaged in this activity, you are breaking the law and you are literally endangering the lives of your family, friends and fellow citizens,” Hogan said.
The order, which took effect at 5 p.m. Monday, does not include essential or critical industries as defined by the federal government: health care, law enforcement, emergency workers, food, energy, water, transportation, public works, communications, government, critical manufacturing, financial services, chemicals and defense. Restaurant carryouts, liquor stores and day care centers are among the businesses that can remain open.
Big box stores such as Target and Walmart will remain open, but Hogan said he has asked local law enforcement to help those retailers deal with crowd control.
The order came after the state’s health department reported 44 new confirmed cases of the illness, bringing the state’s tally to 288 even as testing for the virus remains insufficient. Cases have been reported from Garrett County to the Eastern Shore, but are primarily clustered for now along the Interstate 95 corridor from the Washington suburbs to Baltimore. Three people have died.
While many businesses closed under Hogan’s order already had shut their doors due to COVID-19, Salon D.Renee in Baltimore’s Mount Vernon neighborhood remained open Monday. Owner Ashley Bowens, 33, had assumed a nonessential business shutdown could close her shop, but didn’t agree with the move.
“I don’t think it’s fair at all,” she said. “We’re licensed professionals. We have to go to school and get our hours to do this.”
Bowens’ daughter, Sydney Taylor, played with toys and her mother’s camera as the hairstylist attended to 20-year-old Jonah Whitt. Whitt did not schedule Monday’s appointment in anticipation of a shutdown but said she was happy with the timing.
Bowens said she sent an email to clients notifying them of Hogan’s ordinance and what they could do to support her. Clients can buy gift cards to go toward their next visit or “hair care packages” with products and instructions. She said while many have contributed already, she worries about providing for her daughter without her salon operating.
In the four years she’s owned it, she has never shut down for this long. She said she also worries about her three employees and how they’ll fare during the closure.
“It’s scary,” she said. “I don’t even know the next time we’re going to be open.”
Other area barber shops already had shut their doors due to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak. Nearby, The Beatnik Barber Shop had a sign hung on its door, alerting customers that it closed March 16. It will remain closed until further notice, the sign read.
To help those businesses and nonprofits through the economic shock caused by the pandemic, Hogan also announced the state is providing two new emergency relief funds through the state’s commerce and labor departments, one that offers loans and one that offers grants.
The $50 million grant fund will offer up to $10,000 for organizations with fewer than 50 employees for payroll expenses, mortgage payments and utilities. The other $75 million fund will offer low-interest loans of up to $50,000 for organizations with up to 50 employees, with zero interest charged the first 12 months.
The state Department of Labor is offering a $7 million fund to help companies avoid laying off workers. This money can be used for a variety of purposes ranging from helping employees telework to cleaning their facilities, as well as other creative strategies to keep people employed. Applications will receive a response within two days.
Hogan said the nation’s governors are going to push President Donald Trump in a call today to provide “major economic stimulus money” directly to the state to help people who have been impacted by the virus.
The governor and state officials already have taken a number of measures to slow the pandemic in the state, including ordering the temporary closure of public schools, bars, sit-down restaurants, senior centers, limiting gathering sizes and public transportation, and postponing next month’s primary election.
“I know how incredibly difficult this is on each and every one of you," Hogan said. “There is a great deal of fear and anxiety. The truth is, none of us really know how bad it’s going to get or how long it’s going to last, but I can promise that there are a great deal, a great many dedicated people doing some tremendous things, working around the clock, doing their best to help keep the people of Maryland safe.”
Hogan said whether Maryland’s actions have been successful will be hard to know. The goal, he said, is to “slow the curve” and prevent people from becoming infected, or dying.
“We also know we have not yet hit the peak; we know the numbers will dramatically rise,” Hogan said.
The Republican governor’s latest edict stops short of the “shelter-in-place” orders issued in other states.
“We are telling you — unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, you should stay in your home,” he said.
Hogan also announced the state would open a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center and the adjacent city-owned Hilton Hotel. It will be run in a joint partnership between the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins Medicine. The sites are being set up by the Maryland National Guard. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is expected to provide at least 250 beds.
Hogan said he issued orders Monday to authorize a process to “fast track” more testing capability in Maryland without waiting for federal action or approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. Although the governor said “this will dramatically shorten” the timeline, he did not describe what the actions will involve.
The governor also signed an executive order to prevent price gouging on essential household items.
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Hogan said this action builds on other measures. On Thursday, for instance, he signed emergency legislation to provide relief to workers to collect unemployment benefits if their business has been closed due to the virus or if they or a family member has been quarantined.
The governor paused to thank the state’s small businesses for their sacrifices.
“These actions, while incredibly difficult financially, will save the lives of thousands of your fellow Marylanders and we will have your backs in the weeks ahead,” the governor said. “We will do everything we can to get you back on your feet and help all of your employees recover.”
The state also is offering $5 million as incentives to produce face masks, ventilators and other equipment. Any businesses that can help manufacture necessary medical supplies should reach out to state officials at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Hogan said the goal is to save lives and minimize what will likely be a devastating economic impact.