Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has issued an executive order that authorizes local health departments to shut down businesses and organizations that local officials deem “unsafe facilities.”
The order, signed Sunday, gives explicit authority to health officials to shut down such businesses if they are not complying with the governor’s previous orders to protect the “public health, welfare, and safety" and prevent the transmission of the novel coronavirus pandemic in the state.
Hogan has ordered closed all non-essential businesses, but permitted those deemed critical or essential to operate. The Republican governor has instructed Marylanders to avoid crowds of 10 or more people and, in smaller gatherings, stay apart from each other.
Nevertheless, in some jurisdictions, some residents have raised concerns about crowds assembled outside carryout establishments or close working conditions at places like construction sites.
Some local health departments were concerned they lacked the legal authority to make determinations about what conditions were out of compliance with the governor’s orders, according to Hogan’s spokesman. The order empowers Baltimore’s health commissioner and the chief health officer in each of the state’s 23 counties to take action against “a business, organization, establishment, facility, or construction site in his/her political subdivision .... unable or unwilling to operate in a manner that does not pose an unreasonable risk of exacerbating the spread of COVID-19.”
Under the executive order, the health official can order the business to change its practices or demand its closure. A failure to comply with the health officer’s order could result in a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.
Hogan signed the order the same day he issued an emergency order aimed at curbing the spread of the illness in nursing home facilities, some of which have been hit hard by outbreaks of the virus.
Under the nursing home order, “symptomatic” residents now qualify for expedited COVID-19 tests, administered either by the state or other public laboratories. Among other measures, nursing home staff who interact with residents will be required to wear personal protective equipment, and homes must create separate areas with designated staff to care for positive and suspected cases of the disease.