ANNAPOLIS — Restaurants, bars and gyms in Maryland were ordered to close by the end of Monday in a continuing effort to stem the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Gov. Larry Hogan made the announcement during a Monday news conference in which he also ordered that there be no public gatherings of any kind of 50 people or more.
“This carries the full force of the law and will be strictly enforced,” said Hogan.
“We are no longer asking for anybody’s cooperation,” he said. “We’re not fooling around anymore.”
As part of the order, the governor said that restaurants that have delivery and drive-through services would be allowed to continue to operate.
Essential businesses such as grocery stores, banks and pharmacies, gas stations were ordered to remain open and operating, Hogan said.
“It is impossible to know how long this threat will continue,” he said.
The governor announced the closures, which he called unprecedented, with another broad set of executive orders and mandates he said are intended to slow the spread of the virus.
On Monday morning, Hogan said there were now 37 reported cases in the state. Maryland reported its first three cases on March 5, the same day the governor declared a state of emergency.
“We’ve never faced anything like this before,” said Hogan. “This is going to be much harder, take much longer, and be much worse than almost anyone is currently understanding.”
Under the state of emergency, Hogan has ramped up the state’s efforts to restrict the spread of the virus.
Hogan said too many people were ignoring warnings and risking the health of the general public.
“Every single one of us needs to take serious actions to immediately limit day-to-day interactions and activities,” he said.
COVID-19 is from a family of coronaviruses that include severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS – and Middle East respiratory syndrome. The virus takes its name for the spikes that appear on the surface of its cells that resemble crowns.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most people who catch the virus develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
The Monday announcement was the latest in a series of changes forced by virus.
On Sunday, leaders in the Maryland General Assembly said they would truncate the 90-day session by almost three weeks because of the public health threat. State buildings and the State House and legislative buildings were closed to the public on Friday.
In addition to the business closures, Hogan barred public gatherings of 50 or more people — lower than the 250 he announced last week.
The Maryland Department of Health will begin an assessment of closed hospital facilities in an effort to add 6,000 additional beds to an estimated 9,000 within Maryland.
Fran Phillips, deputy state health secretary, said the agency is looking to “anticipate and prepare for a surge in medical need.”
Hogan activated 5,000 trained volunteers in the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps. He also authorized medical professionals with a valid out-of-state licenses or whose Maryland licenses have expired to work in the state.
The Maryland National Guard and Air National Guard were activated on Thursday. Currently, about 400 guard members have been activated with plans to activate a total of 2,200 guard soldiers and airmen, according to Major General Timothy Gowen, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard.
Hogan issued an executive order prohibiting utilities and cable and internet providers from disconnecting customers for nonpayment. He also ended evictions while the state of emergency is in effect.
The Maryland State Department of Education has applied for a federal waiver to assist in providing meals to students who depend on schools being open to access food.
Karen Salmon, state schools superintendent, said officials expect to hand out 100,000 meals at nearly 140 locations over the next two weeks while schools are closed.
It is not immediately known how long schools will be closed. Salmon said the initial “two weeks was to give us time to assess the situation,” and that an extension of that closure hasn’t been ruled out.
She said the schools will provide three meals daily and a snack while waiting for the federal government to approve the waiver request.
“We haven’t gotten the waiver yet but we went ahead and said we’re doing it anyway,” said Salmon.