Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is cracking down on individuals and businesses who don’t follow public health orders as COVID-19 surges in Maryland, and announced Monday that state police will launch a “wide-scale” enforcement operation as Thanksgiving approaches.
At a Monday afternoon press conference, Hogan said he’s deploying additional state troopers in all of Maryland’s counties and the city of Baltimore to enforce public health mandates. He said the state troopers will deploy “high visibility compliance units” in popular downtown areas across the state ― including Baltimore, Bel Air, Towson, Salisbury and Silver Spring― to keep an eye on crowds and social distancing.
He noted that Thanksgiving is a time when many travel home and traditionally head to bars with friends and families, but described pub-crawling during the pandemic as “reckless.”
State troopers will step up enforcement efforts on Wednesday and Thursday in addition to their normal push to combat drunk driving during the holiday, although they will also help local governments with pandemic-related enforcement going forward.
Hogan’s announcement came less than a week after he issued a slew of restrictions in response to the massive surge of coronavirus cases. Those restrictions include limiting the hours for indoor dining and reducing capacity for many indoor businesses to 50%.
He believes the vast majority of Marylanders are following public health guidelines, masking up in public and avoiding large gatherings, but warned that a few lax businesses or individuals could worsen the pandemic for everyone.
Hogan slammed businesses and residents who don’t comply with public health orders, charging that they are putting their entire communities at risk by flouting masks and having large gatherings.
“We can’t let a few bad actors spoil it for the others who’ve been doing such a great job,” Hogan said. “We cannot afford all the progress that we’ve made together against this virus.”
While the state has an additional 6,000 hospital beds as part of its surge plan, Hogan warned that some hospitals in Western Maryland are already at capacity.
An additional 29 hospitals are nearing their capacity, Hogan said, although the Department of Health has issued an order allowing hospitals nearing their full capacity to transfer patients to hospitals with vacancies.
The state has seen 19 straight days with more than 1,000 new cases of COVID-19, with another 1,658 new cases in a 24-hour period as of Monday afternoon. The state’s 7-day positivity rate was 6.88% as of Monday, Hogan said.
Maryland reported an additional 14 confirmed COVID-19 deaths Monday morning, bringing the total since March to 4,293.
Hogan was joined by Baltimore County Executive John “Johnny O” Olszewski, Jr (D), who said he plans on using his full authority to crack down on compliance around Thanksgiving. He warned that anyone found in violation of state or local health orders will face consequences.
“These rules are in place to save lives,” Olszewski said. “If you are found violating them, you will be held accountable.”
Baltimore County’s social distancing task force has conducted thousands of inspections during the pandemic, Olszewski said, and has found more than 300 violations. He said county officials have cited and even shut down businesses that don’t comply with health orders.
Maryland State Police are operating a 24-hour hotline for residents to report health order violations, Hogan said. Marylanders can report potential violations to (833) 979-2266 or send an email to Prevent.Covid@maryland.gov.
By Bennett Leckrone