ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan is tightening statewide coronavirus restrictions due to a continued increase in COVID-19 cases in the state. New cases, statewide positivity rate and hospitalizations have all increased considerably since Hogan's press conference last Thursday, leading the governor to issue a new executive order to reinforce COVID safety protocols.
"Last week I said the warning lights were starting to blink on the dashboard, but now we have crossed over into the danger zone," Hogan said.
Effective Wednesday at 5 p.m., the capacity for indoor dining at bars and restaurants will be reduced from 75% back to 50%, and only seated customers will be served. The Maryland Health Department has also issued a public health advisory strongly warning against any indoor gatherings of 25 people or more, and an expanded travel advisory strongly advising to avoid nonessential travel to states with positivity rates above 10%.
The emergency order will also activate the next level of hospital surge capacity planning, including seeking additional staffing and alternative care facilities.
Hogan said the increased restrictions are a result of the state seeing widespread community transmission, not only in cities and urban regions, but in rural jurisdictions that hadn't previously seen large spikes. For the first time since June 25, Maryland's statewide positivity rate rose above the 5% benchmark mandated by the CDC and WHO. The state has reported more than 1,000 new cases for seven days straight, and hospitalizations and ICU patients are at their highest levels since June 13 and 27, respectively. Case rates are above 10 per 100,000 in 18 jurisdictions and above 20 per 100,000 in seven jurisdictions.
"We do not want to take actions that will further burden our struggling small businesses, or actions to shut down our economy," Hogan said. "Our primary goals continue to be keeping our hospitals from overflowing and stopping more Marylanders from dying."
All state employees who are approved for telework must also return to mandatory telework, except for essential personnel. The governor and the health department are also urging nursing homes to stockpile PPE and urge visitors to test before they visit with loved ones in nursing homes.
"This virus does not care if you are tired of it. It does not care if you have holiday plans," Hogan said. "It does not care who you voted for, and it will not let us move on just because we all want to get back to our normal lives."
The governor reminded business owners that all executive orders "carry the full force of law" and encouraged county leaders to fully enforce tightened restrictions, noting that failure to comply could result in the loss of operating licenses. As he has done in the past, Hogan encouraged local leaders to evaluate their own local metric and enforce stricter precautions if necessary.
Earlier Tuesday, the Montgomery County Council passed its own executive order reinstating tighter COVID restrictions around gathering sizes and capacity limits on businesses. The county mandated that gathering sizes be limited to 25 people and that indoor dining capacities be reduced from 50% to 25%.
Major changes in the order include:
- Limit gathering sizes to 25 people (reduced from 50)
- Limit capacity for indoor dining, retail establishments, fitness centers, salons and religious facilities to 25% (reduced from 50%)
- Cut off carry-out and delivery services from restaurants at 10 p.m.
- No alcohol served at restaurants past 10 p.m.
- Require restaurants to keep a daily record of indoor and outdoor dining customers for at least 30 days to assist with contact tracing