Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced tighter capacity restrictions for bars, restaurants and indoor gatherings on Tuesday amid worsening coronavirus health metrics.
Effective 5 p.m. Wednesday, Hogan is ordering that the capacity of bars and restaurants be reduced from 75% down to 50%. The governor also announced the Maryland Department of Health’s strong advisement to cap indoor gatherings at no more than 25 people.
These decisions were made in response to an uptick in COVID-19 metrics statewide.
Hogan said Maryland had experienced seven-straight days of more than 1,000 cases, and on Monday, the state’s positivity rate had exceeded 5.05% — the first time since June 25.
He said that total COVID-19 hospitalizations are at 761, the state’s highest since June 13, and 176 patients are in the ICU due to the coronavirus, the state’s highest since June 27.
“Too many residents and businesses have COVID fatigue and have begun letting their guard down,” Hogan said. “Too many Marylanders have been traveling out of state to unsafe locations, hosting large gatherings, crowding in bars, attending house parties and refusing to wear masks.”
The governor’s press conference Tuesday evening comes on the heels of local county leaders calling on Hogan to take the lead on the state’s coronavirus response following rising case rates throughout Maryland.
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One of the central criticisms made by county leaders was that Hogan hadn’t participated in a coronavirus call in more than five months.
The governor said that he was involved in the early calls before getting a team set up to handle those concerns directly. He plans to increase the frequency of these calls in order to appease local leaders.
The new orders were met with approval by Dr. Thomas M. Scalea, the physician-in-chief for the University of Maryland Medical System.
“Today’s announcement from the Hogan administration is a sensible and very welcomed step in the right direction, allowing Maryland to apply the same approach to statewide COVID-19 care that we already have in place for trauma care,” Scalea said in a statement Tuesday.
“The University of Maryland Medical System, through our own Unified Incident Command Structure, has already stress-tested this common sense strategy by shifting resources and transferring patients within our own 13-hospital system over the course of the pandemic, and I have tremendous optimism that the state can successfully apply much of what we have learned over the past eight months.”
While saying that Maryland is still in better shape than 40 other states, Hogan reminded residents that the new health orders carry the full force of the law.
He said that most businesses have been following the previous orders, but called on county leaders and their respective health, liquor, permitting and law enforcement departments to start “dropping the hammer on the bad apples because that’s where the spread is taking place.”
Violators run the risk of jail time and fines, Hogan added.
Family gatherings were singled out by the governor as the primary reason for the community spread of COVID-19, hence the new orders capping those types of get-togethers.
Religious gatherings, however, are not a target of this new crop of restrictions given that they require adequate spacing.
He also reminded county leaders that they have until Dec. 30 to spend the remainder of their federal CARES act aid before it expires.
“We have come too far, and the stakes are too high,” Hogan said. “This virus does not care if you’re tired of it; it does not care if you have holiday plans. It doesn’t care who you voted for, and it will not let us move on just because we all desperately want to get back to our normal, pre-COVID lives.”
In a statement, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 3 President Patrick Moran praised Hogan’s decision to tighten capacity restrictions.
“We are happy that Governor Hogan is finally taking action to combat the second wave of COVID-19 that our members have seen first hand for weeks,” the statement said. “Unfortunately it took thousands of Marylanders and countless AFSCME members getting sick and hospitalized before he took action.”