Updated: Hogan orders nonessential businesses to close; state creates emergency business relief funds

Updated: Hogan orders nonessential businesses to close; state creates emergency business relief funds

No shelter in place ordered, but residents told to stay home; read list of nonessential businesses

| Published:
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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan at a Montgomery County event last year.

File photo

As the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease continues to rise, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday morning ordered all nonessential businesses to close by 5 p.m.

Hogan also said the state is launching several new emergency loan and grant programs to bolster small businesses suffering during the pandemic.

One new effort will make money available to companies for producing protective gear to fill medical needs. Another will provide money to avoid employee layoffs.

Businesses exempt from Monday’s shutdown are in critical fields, such as health care, food, agriculture, energy, public works, community government, public safety, law enforcement, critical manufacturing, financial services, transportation, communication and water and wastewater industries.

Day care centers can remain open, although Hogan said that could change. Restaurants are exempt, but previous orders restricting their operations to take-out and delivery operations remain in effect.

Tighter restrictions were necessary, Hogan said, because some residents continue to ignore social distancing guidance.

Monday’s announcement stops short of a full “shelter in place” directive, like what has been imposed in other states. Residents still may venture out of their homes to work at essential business, but must follow mandates limiting crowd sizes.

“Let me be clear, we are not issuing or ordering a shelter in place directive or forcing people to stay home,” Hogan said. “However, we are telling all Marylanders to follow all of the directives we’ve already issued and follow state law. We are telling you unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, then you should stay in your homes.”

Hogan announced more than $175 million in grants and loans available to small businesses and Maryland workers. The funds can be used to pay employees, rent and “critical operating costs,” Hogan said. The goal is to keep as many businesses afloat as possible and avoid layoffs, according to Hogan.

The grants and loans are available mostly for businesses and nonprofits with 50 or fewer employees. Businesses can apply online.

Grants will be for up to $10,000. Low-interest loans — at 0 percent for the first 12 months — will be available for up to $50,000.

About $5 million will be available as an incentive to manufacture medical supplies, like face masks and ventilators, that could help keep replenish the state’s supply.

Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz said the state wants to hear from any business able to provide supplies.

“I can assure you these actions, while incredibly difficult financially, will save the lives of thousands of your fellow Marylanders and we will have your backs in the weeks ahead,” Hogan said. “And we will do everything we can to help you get you back on your feet and help all of your employees recover.”

The number of confirmed cases of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, climbed to 288 on Monday, with 93 in Montgomery County. Three Marylanders, including a Montgomery County woman in her 40s, have died.

The first three cases of the coronavirus were reported March 5. Over the past week, nearly every day has brought more than 40 new confirmed cases, and health officials warn the actual number is likely higher, as there are limited testing capabilities.

Hogan, in his second term as governor, has taken swift and strong actions over the past two weeks to limit the spread of the coronavirus. The day the first cases were announced, Hogan announced a state of emergency. Over the next 14 days, Hogan would authorize a statewide shutdown of schools, plead for people to practice social distancing and order the closing of most public spaces — bars, restaurants, movie theaters, gyms.

Because the disease’s incubation period is believed to be up to two weeks, state health officials have said it’s too early to tell if the actions are effective.

Hogan, however, has voiced his frustration with people who have not followed his direction. Students who have traveled in groups to spring break destinations and children playing together in parks have been especially frustrating for Hogan.

On Monday morning, Hogan applauded “the overwhelming majority” of state residents who have “taken the situation seriously,” but said those who aren’t are “literally endangering the lives of your family, your friends and your fellow citizens.”

Hogan on Monday also signed an executive order to protect families from price gouging, he said, and any retailers who “attempt to exploit this crisis for profit and gain will be prosecuted to the full extent of the law.”

A field hospital is being set up at the Baltimore Convention Center and a drive-thru coronavirus test site will be available in Landover. Five vehicle emission inspection testing sites across the state are ready to open as other drive-thru testing sites “as soon as” an adequate supply of testing kits is available, he said.

Health care providers were also directed to prioritize testing for hospitalized patients, symptomatic first responders and symptomatic nursing home patients. Medical professionals are required to cancel or postpone all elective procedures.

“There is a great deal of fear and anxiety, and the truth is that none of us really know how bad it’s going to get or how long it’s going to last,” Hogan said. “But I can promise you there are a great many dedicated people doing some tremendous things, working around the clock and doing their very best to help keep the people of Maryland safe.”

There were no new announcements about public schools, which are currently in their second week of closure due to the coronavirus pandemic. State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon has suggested the closures could last longer.

In a message to MCPS families on Sunday, Superintendent Jack Smith wrote that he expected a longer-term schools closure and the school district will “launch the first phase of a distance learning plan” on March 30 “so that students can begin to have structured school experiences.”

Smith’s message did not provide any information about how the system would work, aside from saying it would provide “multiple ways to access learning” and provide interaction between staff and students and “some degree of normalcy” to students.

Smith’s message largely focused on accepting there are many unknowns in an unprecedented situation.

“[T]he fact is, we do not know what’s going to happen or how it’s going to happen. We do not know how this will unfold,” Smith wrote. “What we do know is that we are all in this together and we are better together.”

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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