Coronavirus update: Hogan says local health boards can close ‘unsafe’ Md. businesses; Baltimore-DC area an ’emerging hot spot’

Visitors walk on the Lincoln Memorial steps near a sign encouraging coronavirus protection measures in Washington, Wednesday, March 25, 2020. Officials have urged Washington residents to stay home to contain the spread of the coronavirus. AP/Patrick Semansky

The latest

  • Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan says he has issued a new executive order giving local health departments greater authority to close businesses that don’t comply with social distancing guidelines.
  • The D.C. Council unanimously passed an emergency COVID-19 relief bill on Tuesday that establishes a rent freeze and other measures.
  • The total number of cases across the region continues climbing, nearing the 9,000 mark. A total of 188 people have died in D.C., Maryland and Virginia.
  • D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton is calling on the National Park Service to temporarily close the Lincoln and Jefferson memorials after crowds had reportedly gathered there over the weekend.
  • Four more D.C. first responders have tested positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total to 38. A retired D.C. firefighter died in Carroll County, Maryland.

The symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, coughing and shortness of breath. Health officials say that if you have these symptoms, you should call your doctor. Don’t just show up. Medical facilities need to get ready for you. If you don’t have a doctor and you live in D.C. or the nearby Maryland suburbs, D.C.’s mayor recommends calling Mary’s Center at 844-796-2797. If you live in Virginia, call 211.

Hogan gives local health departments more power to close ‘unsafe’ businesses

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday he is issuing a new executive order beefing up the power of local health departments to close down “unsafe” businesses that fail to comply with social distancing measures.

Meanwhile, Hogan spokesman Mike Ricci said in a tweet that as of Tuesday, police in Maryland have made almost 15,000 compliance checks, made 14 arrests and issued 665 warnings for violating Hogan’s executive orders.

The most common occupancy type violations have been in businesses (313), private residences (51), open public spaces (308) and houses of worship (12).

Hogan announced the new measure Tuesday during a news conference after touring the Baltimore Convention Center, which is being turned into a field hospital to handle an expected surge in coronavirus cases.

Under the new order, any local health department that determines that a business or facility in its jurisdiction isn’t complying with social distancing guidelines can order it to modify its practices, “severely limit” movement to and from the business or shut it down entirely.

The order also applies to construction sites.

Read the governor’s order. 

Hogan said he is also empowering state and local law enforcement officers to enforce the order, which is punishable with up to a year in jail and a $5,000 fine.

Last month, Hogan ordered nonessential businesses across the state to close.

‘Emerging hot spot’

During the news conference, Hogan said he had convinced the Trump administration to designate the Baltimore-Washington as an “emerging hot spot” of coronavirus cases that should be a priority for “urgent federal attention.”

In Maryland, the hot spot designation covers 12 jurisdictions, including Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County, Prince George’s County, Montgomery County, Anne Arundel County, Howard County, Frederick County, Harford County, Queen Anne’s County, Calvert County and Charles County.

Hogan said he “started ringing every alarm bell” in the White House to get more attention paid to Maryland and D.C. He said his pitch was that “We were so critical to the nation’s defense that it’s not just that we had numbers, but … it’s some 400,000 federal workers surrounding them.”

Hogan said the impact of COVID-19 on the broader D.C. region was a big part of recent discussions with Vice President Mike Pence and other members of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force.

Surge soon?

Dr. Thomas Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said social distancing appeared to be working in other areas of the country and hoped it was doing the same in Maryland.

One model he said the White House was using predicted Maryland’s peak of cases would come in about 10 days. Other models, Inglesby said, saw it coming later. He said there were “some encouraging signs” that the peak is coming soon.

Hogan said the question of when businesses can reopen and life can get back to normal was “a really hard decision.”

Inglesby said China is experimenting with loosening social-distancing restrictions, but that Maryland, and the U.S., aren’t there yet. “One of the preconditions is to get the numbers [of cases] quite low,” so that health departments can know the numbers and track cases. “That’s not quite possible yet.”

Strike teams respond to Maryland nursing home outbreaks

The state is now dealing with cases or clusters of cases at 90 nursing homes and long-term care facilities, including a major outbreak at a Mount Airy nursing home.

Responding to those outbreaks, Hogan announced the creation of “strike teams,” made up of members of the National Guard, local health departments and hospital staff, to help support overburdened facilities where outbreaks occur.

The strike teams, which will be activated upon request by nursing homes, will provide more rapid testing of workers exposed to identified cases and on-site medical triage for ill residents.

Maryland tackles coronavirus rumors with new site

Maryland’s new “rumor control” website is aimed at dispelling rumors and false information “that could unnecessarily cause panic or worse, result in decision-making that could lead to severe injuries or even death,” said Jorge Castillo, a spokesman with the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, in a statement.

Among the false information listed on the website are rumors involving the Maryland National Guard and Hogan’s stay-at-home order.

Readers can also submit rumors they’ve heard that could be featured on the site and fact-checked.

Virginia Gov. Northam delays decision on teacher raises, tuition freeze

Gov. Ralph Northam plans to push back decisions on whether to give teachers and state workers raises, freeze in-state college tuition, and other new spending items in a proposed state budget in response to the coronavirus.

The governor wants lawmakers to revisit those spending plans after the state has a better idea of what long-term effects the pandemic will have on the economy, his office said.

Northam has until Saturday to amend, sign or veto most legislation passed during this year’s legislative session, including the budget.

Lawmakers will take up the governor’s vetoes and amendments during a one-day legislative session later this month.

Northern Virginia city and county leaders expressed their concern about lost revenue in their jurisdictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic measures. Members of the Northern Virginia Regional Commission, in a letter to Virginia congressional members, expressed their support for a new stimulus package that helps local governments whose budgets have been negatively affected by the pandemic.

DC Council approves coronavirus relief bill

In a first of its kind virtual session Tuesday, the D.C. Council unanimously approved a major coronavirus relief bill.

Among other provisions, the legislation includes a districtwide freeze on rent increases, mortgage-payment deferrals, an expansion of unemployment insurance, the mailing of an absentee-ballot application to every voter and more.

More Coronavirus News

Montgomery County calls for more protections for essential workers

Two Montgomery County, Maryland, council members drafted a regulation that would require essential businesses to provide face coverings to their employees, and would require customers to wear face coverings when interacting with essential employees.

Council member Hans Riemer said he and fellow Council member Gabe Albornoz were acting as the Board of Health when they drafted the regulation, saying the lack of protection for retail employees is an “urgent crisis situation.”

“The lack of guidance from government to protect them is a tragic failure. These workers are exposed to asymptomatic customers constantly. They are now getting sick and dying,” Riemer said in a statement.

Under the proposed regulation, starting on April 16, employers must provide their employees a face covering they can use on the job if they interact in person with co-workers and customers. Employees have to use the face covering whenever they interact with people on the job.

The regulation also requires customers to use a face covering starting April 23 whenever they interact with employees of an essential business.

Read the proposed regulation here.

Total number of cases continue climb

The total number of coronavirus cases across D.C., Maryland and Virginia have continued to climb, nearing the 9,000 mark.

As of Tuesday morning, there are 8,915 COVID-19 cases in the region — an increase of nearly 900 from the day before.

Maryland reported 326 new cases, for a total of 4,371. Virginia reported 455 new cases, for a total of 3,333. D.C. reported 114 new cases, for a total of 1,211.

Coronavirus-related deaths increased by more than dozen, to 188. A total of 103 people have died in Maryland and 63 in Virginia.

D.C. health officials reported Tuesday that it had previously over-counted two deaths, bringing the current total to 22.

Earlier this week, D.C. began releasing data on the race of residents who have tested positive for the virus. The new data reveals a stark racial disparity in deaths from COVID-19. Of the 22 people to die from the virus in D.C., 13 — or 59% — were African American.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said during Tuesday’s briefing that African Americans are more likely to have predisposing conditions — such as diabetes and hypertension — that could lead to a bad outcome if they were to get infected with the virus that causes COVID-19. Fauci is also the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases with the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland.

More than 600 people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 have since recovered, according to limited data provided by local health departments.

In Maryland, 288 people have recovered from the illness. In D.C., 318 people recovered.

In both jurisdictions, that means patients have gone at least three days without a fever without using medicine; other symptoms, such as coughing and shortness of breath have improved; and a total of seven days have passed since patients first started experiencing symptoms.

Virginia does not report data on recoveries.

Norton calls for Lincoln, Jefferson memorials to close

D.C. Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton has called for the head of the National Park Service to temporarily close down the Jefferson and Lincoln memorials after reports that crowds are still gathering at the iconic locales.

The city is still fighting the enforce social distancing measures and warmer weather is bringing more people out.

“Federal agencies must do their part to flatten the curve,” Norton said in statement. “Given the crowds that continue to gather in the chambers of both the Jefferson and Lincoln Memorials, it is no longer in the best interest of the community for these memorials to remain open.”

In a letter to David Vela, the acting head of the National Park Service, Norton said closing the memorials would also protect U.S. Park Police officers.

“It is my understanding that the force is so small that a handful of officers getting sick could interfere with its ability to carry out its responsibilities,” she wrote.

The U.S. Park Police officer’s union applauded Norton’s request.

Late last month, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser ordered several streets near the National Mall and the Tidal Basin closed after crowding near the cherry blossoms led to concerns over social distancing.


4 more DC first responders test positive; retired firefighter dies

Four more D.C. Fire and EMS members have tested positive for the new coronavirus, according to an update from Chief Gregory Dean.

So far, a total of 38 first responders in D.C. have tested positive for the virus over the past month. Of them, eight have since recovered and have returned to duty, the chief said in a statement.

The four newly diagnosed members are at home and self-isolating. The department’s infection control group is working to identify other first responders who might have come into contact with them.

All told, more than 200 D.C. first responders were off-duty and in quarantine as of Monday, according to D.C. Health data.

The fire department announced Monday that a retired firefighter has died from the virus. Francis “Gary” Holmberg, 77, retired in 1988 as captain of Engine Co. 15 in Anacostia. Holmberg was living in Carroll County, Maryland, at the time of his death.

FEMA says federal employee has COVID-19

The Federal Emergency Management Agency said a federal employee working at its headquarters has tested positive for COVID-19, The Associated Press reported.

FEMA told the the AP that the employee and any others who were in contact with that person did not come within 6 feet of members of the White House coronavirus task force, which include Vice President Mike Pence, Dr. Deborah Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. 

Jack Moore

Jack Moore joined as a digital writer/editor in July 2016. Previous to his current role, he covered federal government management and technology as the news editor at, part of Government Executive Media Group.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

Abigail Constantino

Abigail Constantino started her journalism career writing for a local newspaper in Fairfax County, Virginia. She is a graduate of American University and The George Washington University.

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