Gov. Larry Hogan did not issue an executive order Monday demanding residents “shelter in place," as some expected him to. But there is little difference between such orders in other states and the steps Marylanders are being urged to take to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
Some half a dozen states have ordered residents to stay home. But those directives still allow people to venture out for necessities: food, medicine, gasoline and even exercise, though always at a safe distance from others.
With an order closing all non-essential businesses as of 5 p.m. Monday — on top of closures to schools, bars, restaurant dining rooms and entertainment venues last week — Hogan essentially gave Maryland the same instructions as a growing number of governors around the country.
“We are telling you, unless you have an essential reason to leave your house: stay in your home," Hogan said.
Public health officials say the decisions will slow the spread of the virus, which causes the respiratory illness known as COVID-19, by limiting contact with people who may be spreading it unwittingly. Most people who become infected begin shedding the virus and potentially spreading it to others about a day before they start feeling sick, said Dr. Mark Landrum, medical director for infection prevention at Howard County General Hospital.
It won’t be clear for another week and a half to two weeks how effectively business closures may have decelerated the rate of infection around the state, because it takes so long for symptoms to show up and severe illness to develop. Current case counts — 288 in Maryland as of Monday — reflect conditions as they existed two weeks ago, Landrum said.
But Hogan’s latest round of mandated closures Monday demonstrate “a concern that we need to be as aggressive as possible,” Landrum said. “We need to make sure that people who are interacting with each other as just part of normal business is limited.”
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich cautioned residents Friday they were “just one step away from sheltering in place” under a government order. Montgomery has by far the highest number of COVID-19 cases in Maryland, with 93 as of Monday.
And Hogan had already warned state residents they weren’t taking calls to isolate themselves seriously enough.
He ordered gyms, movie theaters and restaurant dining rooms closed March 16. And Hogan extended shutdowns Thursday to include indoor shopping malls, amusement parks and any gatherings of more than 10 people, saying some residents were acting as if they were “on spring break."
But Hogan administration officials said Monday the term “shelter in place” can raise undue alarm, a sentiment Gov. Jay Inslee also raised in Washington state, home to the the nation’s earliest COVID-19 deaths.
While Washington joined other states in closing restaurants, bars and other businesses and limiting the size of gatherings last week, Inslee dismissed questions Wednesday about whether a shelter-in-place order was coming next.
“We could spend a lot of time trying to chase down rumors and we got to focus on today’s challenges today,” Inslee said.
Hogan suggested Monday “it’s all semantics, really,” and said he believes the state’s orders “are more encompassing and perhaps more effective” than a shelter-in-place order. And he didn’t rule out further orders to force the social distancing epidemiologists say is needed to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded.
“I think our actions are more aggressive than some states that have ordered shelter in place,” he said. “But we are going to continue to look at decisions every day.”
Other leaders haven’t shied away from orders residents have interpreted as lockdowns, though they still allow some movement in communities.
On Friday, Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced a statewide stay-at-home order starting Saturday, commanding residents to stay in their homes except for trips to grocery stores, gas stations and pharmacies and to take walks outside.
Breaking News Alerts
That followed a similar edict Thursday from California Gov. Gavin Newsom applying to public gatherings and businesses, except those deemed essential: gas stations, pharmacies, banks, grocery stores, farmers markets, food banks, convenience stores, laundromats and restaurants serving take-out and delivery only.
California permitted people to leave their homes for any of those essential services, or even for exercise, but warned “they should at all times practice social distancing.” Officials urged residents to follow the directives voluntarily, but said police were prepared to enforce them if necessary.
Similar stay-at-home orders followed this week in Delaware, Louisiana and Ohio.
In New York — where half of the nation’s COVID-19 cases were being reported Monday and the National Guard has locked down the city of New Rochelle — Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered nonessential businesses closed Friday as he imposed a statewide “PAUSE” — an acronym for Policies that Assure Uniform Safety for Everyone.
And Cuomo stressed that it bans “all nonessential gatherings of individuals of any size for any reason.”
“We need everyone to be safe; otherwise, no one can be safe,” he said.
Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater and Yvonne Wenger and the Associated Press contributed to this article.