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

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.

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, Latest Baltimore Business News 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, Press Release Distribution Service 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.

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