ANNAPOLIS — As the number of confirmed novel coronavirus cases in Maryland nears 40 with no predictable end to the spread in sight, dine-in restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms have been ordered to close indefinitely, starting at 5 p.m. Monday, March 16.
Gov. Larry Hogan announced the move during a press conference Monday morning, saying it's necessary because "far too many people" have continued to cram into bars and restaurants despite prior warnings to avoid crowded places.
Hogan said drive-through, carry-out and delivery food services will still be permitted to remain operational, as well as grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, banks and "other essential services."
Additionally, following the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) lead, Hogan banned all community, social, religious, recreational and sports gatherings or events of more than 50 people in close proximity across Maryland — a significant decrease from last week's 250-person limit.
While Hogan didn't provide specifics regarding the penalties for failing to abide by the new restrictions, he said local and state law enforcement agencies, and if necessary the National Guard, will be "strictly" enforcing them. The restrictions "carry the full force of the law," he said.
"We're no longer asking for people's cooperation. We're not fooling around anymore," Hogan said. "We have never faced anything like this before. This is going to be much harder, take much longer and be much worse than almost anyone is currently understanding.
"As I have repeatedly stressed, we should continue to expect the number of cases to dramatically and rapidly rise," Hogan said, adding it's "impossible to know how long this threat will continue."
Though, he said, he knows "we can not afford to wait to take action" because, "while these measures may seem extreme, if we do not take them now it could be too late."
To accommodate Marylanders as they adapt to these changes, Hogan said utility companies will be prohibited from charging late fees or shutting off services, including cable, gas, electric, phone, internet, water and sewer. Eviction of any tenant also is prohibited during the state of emergency, he said.
"Decision-makers at the federal, state and local level are going to have to take drastic actions right now that may seem scary and may sound extreme," Hogan said. "They will be terribly disruptive, but they are also absolutely necessary to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of Americans.
"Every single one of us needs to take serious actions to immediately limit day-to-day interactions and activities, and we need to do our part to stop this deadly virus from spreading," he said.
Maryland currently has 37 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, COVID-19, including at least one on the Eastern Shore. The Washington, D.C., region has more than 100 cases, Hogan said Monday morning.
He also said nine of the Marylanders who were aboard the Grand Princess, which was recently docked in California after being held at sea amid an on-board COVID-19 outbreak, would be returning to Maryland under the care of the National Guard Monday evening.
Hogan left the press conference promptly at 11:22 a.m. to join a conference call with U.S. President Donald Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, federal COVID-19 response leaders, and all of the country's governors.