Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) issued a series of COVID-19 restrictions Tuesday afternoon, following the state’s quick entry into the pandemic’s second surge.
“This virus has been with us for so long that too many of us have become numb to the staggering, spiking numbers that are being announced every day,” Hogan said at a Tuesday news conference. “It does not matter how well we have done for all these months. If we falter now and if we fail to take this seriously, we will look just like all those other states and this deadly virus will strengthen its grip on our state and our nation.”
Effective 5 p.m. on Friday, Nov. 20, every establishment that serves food and alcohol, including bars and restaurants, will be unable to perform indoor dining services from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.
Bars must continue to prohibit standing and crowding. Restaurant and bar patrons are still required to stand six feet apart, and no more than six people may be seated together at a table.
Carryout food and alcoholic beverage services are still permitted.
“This order carries the full force of the law and it will be enforced,” Hogan asserted.
Also effective Friday at 5 p.m., all retail businesses, religious institutions, bingo halls, bowling alleys, roller and ice skating rinks, fitness centers, pool halls and social clubs will only be allowed to function at 50% capacity. Masks, sanitization and distancing guidelines are to be enforced.
Additionally, sports fans will no longer be allowed to sit in the stands at racetracks or collegiate and professional stadiums.
Hogan stressed that the state’s mask mandate remains “in full force and effect” at all public indoor facilities including grocery stores, pharmacies, gyms, retail establishments, in public places of public and private businesses and on public transportation.
“This very simple step of wearing masks continues to be the single best mitigation strategy that we have to fight the virus,” he said. “This is not a political issue ― it’s not a limitation on your right to infect other people ― but it is the best way to keep you and your family members safe, to keep people out of the hospital and to save lives.”
‘We are in a war right now’
“The sad reality is that all across America, more people are getting infected with COVID-19,” said Hogan.
And Maryland is no exception.
According to the governor, the state has consistently seen over 1,000 newly confirmed cases in the last 13 days, with this past Saturday documenting the most confirmed cases ever seen in one day. Maryland’s seven-day positivity rate has shot up to 6.85% ― well over a 5% warning threshold ― and 20 of the state’s 24 jurisdictions have followed that trend.
Hospitalizations are on the rise, too.
Tuesday, the state saw 1,046 people hospitalized for the virus, 255 of which are in the ICU. That is the highest hospitalization rate since June 7.
Nearly 20 hospitals across the state have reached over 90% capacity. Hospitals in western Maryland have already reached their full capacity.
“Even with the additional 6,000 beds that we provided for in our hospital surge plan, Maryland hospitals are now reaching capacity,” the governor said. “All of this requires additional, immediate actions to prevent the over-burdening of our healthcare system and to stop more Marylanders from dying.”
To protect healthcare workers and slow the spread, the Maryland Department of Health issued an emergency order Tuesday barring hospital visitors except for the parents or guardians of minors, those in compassionate care, obstetric services and supporters of people with disabilities. The agency has also advised hospitals to avoid performing non-urgent or elective surgeries if possible.
Additionally, the Department of Health has issued an order allowing hospitals nearing or at their full capacity to transfer patients to hospitals with vacancies and appropriate resources.
Dr. Tom Scalea, physician and chief of shock trauma at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said at the Tuesday news conference that hospitals who needed to go “critical care bed shopping” generally looked inward at their own hospital systems for help, “ignoring available beds that maybe exist actually relatively close to them.”
“Now a single phone call will give them access to the appropriate level of critical care services,” he explained. “This is, of course, based on a principle that everybody’s going to cooperate [and] play ball.”
“I’m sure that will be the case.”
In an effort to protect more vulnerable populations, Hogan has restricted visitation to nursing homes. Indoor visits will now only be allowed for compassionate care patients, and all visitors must provide documentation of a negative COVID-19 test taken within 72 hours of their visit.
“I realize this is very difficult, especially at this time of year,” Hogan explained, “but please know that by refraining from visits at this time, you are helping keep them safe and to save the lives of our most vulnerable.”
Additionally, the Department of Health will begin to require nursing home staff to be tested twice a week. Residents will be tested once a week.
Pensively, Hogan recalled a press conference early on in the pandemic when he announced the state’s first COVID-19 related death.
“I’ll never forget back on March 19, when it was my sad duty to report the very first coronavirus death in our state,” he remembered.
Now Maryland reports 4,186 deaths ― 26 of which occurred on Monday, alone.
“That’s more than one [person] dying every hour in Maryland,” said the governor, adding that more Marylanders have died of COVID-19 this year than one year’s worth of people lost to “car accidents, gun violence and the flu combined.”
Hogan addressed members of the public who may choose not to believe reports from news outlets or the Department of Health about the gravity of the pandemic.
“Regardless of all the disinformation that’s being spread all over social media, this is not the flu,” he said. “It’s not fake news. It’s not going to magically disappear just because we’re all tired of it and we want our normal lives back.”
“We are in a war right now, and the virus is winning.”
By Hannah Gaskill