Updated: Governor bans gatherings of at least 250 people to curtail coronavirus

Updated: Governor bans gatherings of at least 250 people to curtail coronavirus

First three cases of coronavirus disease, all from Montgomery County, have recovered

| Published:
Hogan March 12 resized

Photo via Gov. Larry Hogan Facebook livestream

Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday announced crowd-control measures aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, including a statewide ban on gatherings of at least 250 people.

Hogan’s press conference Thursday afternoon followed his announcement earlier in the day of the first confirmed case of the disease, known as COVID-19, that wasn’t attributed to travel or exposure from another infected area.

The patient is a man in his 60s who lives in Prince George’s County, he said.

“The first case of [COVID-19] community transmission in Maryland means we are entering a new phase of working to mitigate and limit the spread of this pandemic,” Hogan said in a news release.

Later Thursday, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the first three Montgomery County patients who contracted coronavirus disease have since recovered. He said they were retested and are able to return to their day-to-day activities.

The other three Montgomery County patients are recovering well, Gayles said. Half of Maryland’s 12 positive coronavirus cases as of Thursday have been from Montgomery County.

Hogan also announced other measures on Thursday including:

  • Restrictions on access to state government buildings
  • The closing of all senior activity centers across the state
  • A requirement that all nonessential state employees telework if approved to do so
  • A suspension of visits to state prisons

“We have moved into community transmission, and we believe that all of us need to take serious actions to limit day-to-day actions and activities,” Hogan said.

Maryland Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon on Thursday ordered all of the state’s public schools to close from Monday to March 27, in response to the growing outbreak of the coronavirus disease.

Hogan also announced Thursday that he had activated the National Guard to help with the state’s response to the outbreak of the virus.

Since March 5, 12 Marylanders have tested positive for coronavirus disease, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

The first 11 reported in the state contracted the virus either through travel outside the region or from another infected person, Hogan has said.

Montgomery County leaders said they would also be taking precautionary measures in the coming weeks.

In a press conference on Thursday evening, County Executive Marc Elrich said that in addition to the public schools’ two-week closure, all county recreation centers and libraries will be closed on Monday. 

County employees who can work from home will shift to a telework schedule on Monday.

Elrich said the availability of test kits has been a “struggle” and “major problem.”

“It would be nice if the president of the United States treated this like an emergency because that’s a major problem for us,” he said. “We can’t test all the people who we’d like to test. But we’re not taking all the decisions we have to make lightly.”

Elrich called for the public to seriously adhere to the limit of 250 people for gatherings. The county will immediately restrict the number of people at its gatherings.

“We’re calling on all private institutions, whether you’re churches or have private rental space, to please observe these limits — 250 people is still a lot of people,” he said. “We have got to make sure we minimize the social contact to the greatest degree possible.”

On Wednesday night, Hogan announced the three most recent cases of Marylanders who tested positive.

They were a Montgomery County man in his 20s, a Baltimore County man in his 60s and a Prince George’s County man in his 60s.

The Montgomery County man had traveled to Spain and the Baltimore County man had worked at the American Israel Public Affairs conference in Washington, D.C., Hogan said.

Another local positive case Hogan announced on Wednesday was a man who volunteers as a firefighter in Montgomery County, but lives in Virginia.

Frances Phillips, the state’s deputy secretary for public health services, said on Thursday that three of the 12 patients have fully recovered and passed their quarantine stage.

On Wednesday, Hogan announced steps the state was taking to reduce large gatherings, which included reducing visits to the state’s Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, banning international travel for staff at the Department of Veterans Affairs and shifting the state’s Motor Vehicle Administration to an appointment-only system.

Staff writers Caitlynn Peetz and Briana Adhikusuma contributed to this story.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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