ANNAPOLIS — Maryland residents are being told to shelter in their homes for all but essential business under a new order issued by Gov. Larry Hogan.
The order issued Monday comes as the state has crossed the 1,400 mark for cases and is on pace to reach 1,800 by early April. Health officials are watching the next two weeks for signs of how the state is weathering the COVID-19 virus, but Hogan said Monday that within that time period Maryland will be much like New York in terms of cases.
“This is a deadly public health crisis,” said Hogan. “We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home. We are directing them to do so.”
Hogan said he has ordered state and local police to step up enforcement. Anyone found in violation of the order can be arrested and is subject to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine or both. The governor said the order would be sent as an emergency alert to all cellphone users in the state.
“This is a rapidly escalating emergency situation, which will soon hit all of Maryland and our nation’s capital,” said Hogan.
Since first declaring a state of emergency in Maryland on March 5, Hogan has enacted nearly 30 executive orders related to the response to COVID-19, including the closing of non-essential businesses.
Hogan said the pandemic is “going to be devastating to the state budget” and will require additional federal assistance.
Under the order, the governor said, all residents should remain home but are allowed to go for walks and short trips to grocery stores, to get medicine, walk their dogs and other essentials. Businesses considered essential under previous orders can remain open but are ordered to reduce staff as much as possible and limit interactions with customers.
“I think a lot of it is common sense,” said Hogan. “People are not locked in their homes. We’re just telling people that they need to stay in their homes except for essential and necessary things. We want people to go out. They have to get food. They need to get prescriptions. You should be able to get outside for your own physical and mental well-being and go for a walk and take your dog for a walk.
“You should not be going out with a crowd of 100 people and congregating in a park somewhere. If your plumbing is leaking, and you have to go out and do something to fix that, that’s probably a necessary function. You shouldn’t be out shopping for new carpets or cabinets or buying furniture or clothing.”
Hogan urged residents to not travel outside of Maryland and if they do to quarantine themselves for 14 days.
Maryland reported 1,413 cases Monday morning and 15 deaths. Included in the latest numbers of positive tests is the state’s youngest patient, a 1-month-old child.
“Don’t for a minute think that you are immune from this virus if you are younger,” said Maryland Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips, who continued to stress social distancing as a primary way to limit the spread of COVID-19.
“This virus and this disease is sneaky,” she said. “It spreads easily and it takes days before we know we are infected, before symptoms appear.”
Both Hogan and Phillips warned that containing the spread of the virus will take “weeks if not months.”
“Marylanders need to know that unfortunately we are only at the beginning of the crisis and it’s going to get considerably worse before it gets better,” said Hogan.
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 which 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.
Nationally approximately 25 percent of those hospitalized because of the virus require intensive care, including the use of a ventilator and extra staffing, according to state health officials.
Hogan called on the federal government to step up efforts in the Maryland-DC-Virginia regional, which is home to a large number of essential federal workers and researchers as well as a major economic center.
“A major outbreak among out federal workforce could be catastrophic, crippling the national response,” said Hogan.
The state has opened four testing centers. Three are located at vehicle emissions testing facilities in Bel Air, Glen Burnie and Waldorf. A fourth side was opened Monday at FedEx Field in Prince George’s County.
“This is not for everyone,” said Phillips. “These are only for people with a (medical) order for tests or an appointment. These are for people with symptoms as well as being in certain age or other priority groups.”
Phillips said the tests will be given to at-risk people with symptoms of the disease and are meant to reduce the strain on emergency rooms and doctor’s offices.
Maryland continues to struggle, as do other states, with acquiring enough personal protective equipment, tests and related supplies.
“We do not have enough gear,” said Hogan. “No one in the country has enough gear. That’s the No. 1 problem in America that everyone is talking about.”
The state also continues working to increase the number of available hospital beds, including 250 brought in by FEMA to the Baltimore Convention Center. An additional 500 beds have been ordered for on-site surge reduction at hospitals and another 500 that can be sent to other areas of the state as needed.
Additionally, the state has ordered 100 medical tents that can provide an additional 1,000 beds.
State health officials said they are also investigating a number of outbreaks and clusters of the disease, including 66 people confirmed to have the virus at a Carroll County nursing home as well as cases confirmed inside the Clifton T. Perkins State Hospital.