On March 5, 2020, Gov. Larry Hogan stood before reporters and TV cameras, announcing Maryland’s first known coronavirus cases and instituting a state of emergency. That state of emergency enabled an unprecedented number of actions that would follow, from expediting the purchase of pandemic supplies and setting up treatment units to closing down schools and ordering people to wear masks.
On Sunday — 528 days later — that state of emergency is set to fully expire, even as the virus is still here, sickening residents.
Some Democratic lawmakers have urged Hogan, a Republican, to reverse course and keep the emergency orders in place. The governor, however, is moving forward with the end of the state of emergency, saying that many of the emergency steps have been integrated into the state’s long-term response.
Here’s a look at what will change — and what won’t change — after 11:59 p.m. on Sunday.
Wait, I thought the state of emergency ended July 1? What’s up with that?
Back in mid-June, Hogan held a news conference and announced he was ending the state of emergency July 1. But that’s not really what happened.
Hogan did end most of the remaining pandemic restrictions July 1. But the state of emergency was kept in place to allow for a transition period for a number of legal and technical matters.
The latest order from the governor keeps the state of emergency in place until 11:59 p.m. Sunday.
Hogan noted that ending the state of emergency doesn’t mean the pandemic is over.
“While the end of the state of emergency is an important step in our recovery from COVID-19, it does not mean that this virus and the variants no longer pose any threat,” Hogan said in June.
Why is the state of emergency important?
Hogan issued a proclamation that declared both a general state of emergency and the existence of what’s called a “catastrophic health emergency.” That proclamation has been renewed 18 times over the course of the pandemic, roughly once per month.
Under Maryland law, each of those types of emergencies comes with a suite of powers and authorities that the governor can use.
It was this part of state law that allowed the governor to shut down schools and businesses, order people to stay at home for a time and require people to wear masks. It also enabled him to call up the National Guard and offer flexibility from normal laws and regulations for things as varied as hospital care to delivering alcohol from restaurants.
Hogan did not use all of the emergency powers granted to him under the law, such as seizing medical supplies or requiring individuals to be vaccinated. (Yes, that’s really in the law.)
So what exactly ends on Sunday?
In addition to the overarching state of emergency and catastrophic health emergency ending Sunday, dozens of related orders also will expire.
Several of them are related to health care, including orders that have allowed medical professionals with out-of-state or expired licenses to practice here. Many of the professionals are nurses, and shortages are a big concern, so state health officials say they are working with the Maryland Board of Nursing to ensure swift license renewal applications.
Another order allowed pharmacists to administer coronavirus tests.
The state of emergency also allowed hospitals to quickly add bed space for patients and use areas for medical care that aren’t normally allowed, such as setting up outdoor testing and screening tents. The Maryland Hospital Association said the capacity remains if needed, but many added beds are no longer staffed.
Orders that made certain business transactions easier also are expiring, including orders allowing remote notarization, witnessing and electronic signing of legal documents.
What about my driver’s license?
During the pandemic, Marylanders weren’t required to renew their driver’s licenses and state identification cards. Licenses and IDs that expired after March 12, 2020 were OK to have on hand, but that grace period ends with the state of emergency, and you’ve got to get that taken care of now.
Take note: If your license remains expired for more than a year after Sunday, you’ll have to take the written and driving tests again.
Can I be evicted if I’m behind on my rent?
Possibly. Maryland has an order that gives renters who are facing eviction the opportunity to explain in court that they’ve lost income due to the pandemic, but that goes away Sunday.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has an order in place through Oct. 3 that bans evictions in areas with “substantial” or “high” spread of the coronavirus for renters with incomes less than a certain amount. Even though most of Maryland is currently experiencing substantial or high transmission, there have been questions about where the moratorium applies, given the constantly updated data on transmission rates.
What does this mean for the National Guard?
After about 18 months of helping respond to the coronavirus pandemic, the soldiers and airmen in the Maryland National Guard will get a break. Their activation order ends along with the state of emergency.
Guard members have undertaken duties as varied as staffing meal distribution programs, assisting nursing homes with outbreaks and helping with logistics at mass vaccination sites.
In 2021 alone, nearly 1,100 Guard members have served on active duty, helping to give 900,000 vaccine doses at public vaccination sites in nearly every corner of the state, according to Maj. Kurt M. Rauschenberg, a Guard spokesman.
Guard members also have supported the Vaccine Equity Task Force that’s been reaching out to make sure that people who might have barriers to getting vaccinated have access to the shots. The Guard has helped with 1,000 task force missions, given 150,000 doses and sent 150,000 more doses to local government equity teams.
What about Baltimore’s cap on food delivery fees and delay of the plastic bag ban?
Baltimore has a cap on the fees charged by food delivery apps that remains in effect until 90 days after the statewide emergency order expires. The Baltimore City Council passed a law instituting a 15% cap, because restaurant owners complained that delivery fees were so high that it was difficult for them to still earn a profit.
Baltimore also has a ban on single-use plastic bags that’s been on hold for months due to the pandemic, and remains on hold until Oct. 1. The city law requires stores and restaurants to charge customers 5 cents per paper or compostable bag, if a customer doesn’t bring their own reusable bag. Once the fees are in place, the money will be split between the merchant (4 cents) and the city (1 cent).
Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.