Maryland public schools will remain closed for at least four more weeks, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced during a press conference Wednesday morning, with the possibility they may be closed for longer.
“I’m a hopeful guy, and I would love the thing to be resolved as quickly as possible, but I don’t think we can predict what this virus is going to do and you can’t put a time frame on saving people’s lives,” Hogan said. “We’re going to make decisions based on the scientists and the facts.”
“None of us can say that in four weeks, everything’s going to be great and it’s going to be safe for all the kids to go back to school. It’s somewhat aspirational, and it gives four weeks for us to try to have all the schools prepare,” Hogan added.
Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon broke the news during the governor’s press conference that schools will be closed through April 24.
“We do not make this decision lightly,” Salmon said. “However, with the challenges facing our state and our country, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our school communities and the community at large.”
Salmon said the Maryland State Department of Education is working with the state’s 24 school systems to provide “continuity of learning” to all students, including those with disabilities, and local school systems will be in communication with their communities in the coming days to detail what that entails.
“While it is too early to definitively say exactly when schools will reopen, we will continue to reassess the situation as we move forward,” Salmon said
During a Monday press conference, Hogan issued an executive requiring the closure of all “nonessential businesses, organizations, establishments and facilities in Maryland” by 5 p.m.
“This new executive order closes all those businesses not covered by federal guidelines, which were issued Thursday by the federal government, as defined as critical infrastructure sectors including health care, food, agriculture, energy, public works, community based government operations, defense and industrial based sectors, law enforcement, public safety, transportation, critical manufacturing, financial services and water and wastewater,” Hogan said.
“Let me be clear; we are not issuing or ordering a shelter in place directive or forcing people to stay home. However, we are telling all Marylanders to follow the state directives we’ve already issued and to follow state law against crowds of more than 10 people, and we are telling you, unless you have an essential reason to leave your house, then you should stay in your homes,” Hogan added.
Hogan said the actions are “absolutely necessary” to save lives.
“Our first priority is to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders,” Hogan said.
Hogan said that “further and more aggressive enforcement actions” would be taken to disperse crowds and large gatherings.
Hogan compared his response with that of other states, that have issued “shelter in place” edicts.
“Our orders, we believe, are more encompassing and perhaps more effective,” Hogan said. “It’s all semantics really. Some states have said, ‘There’s a shelter in place order, but we’re going to leave all these businesses open, so we’re going to tell you to stay in your house but you can do all of these things.’ We’re saying, ‘We want you to stay in your house and we’re going to close all of these things.’ ... I think our actions are actually more aggressive than some states that have ordered ‘shelter in place’ but it’s not as draconian as to lock people in their homes.”
Hogan said governors of both parties have been pushing for a more robust federal response to the epidemic and a lack of action on governors’ priorities.
“As I’ve said repeatedly, governors are leading on the front lines in this crisis, and we need Congress to work together to support our efforts. This is no time for partisan disfunction. It’s going to take all of us, working together, to save thousands of lives.”
Hogan announced a number of programs aimed at helping small businesses and their employees cope with the shutdowns and layoffs that have resulted from the recent novel coronavirus 2019 outbreak.
“We will have your backs in the weeks ahead and we will do everything we can to help you get back on your feet and to help all of your employees recover,” Hogan said.
The programs Hogan announced include a $175 million comprehensive business relief program, a $7 million COVID-19 layoff aversion fund, a $50 small business COVID-19 relief fund, a $75 million small business and nonprofit long-term loan program and a $5 million incentive program to increase the production of masks and other supplies needed by first responders and medical personnel. For more information, go to businessexpress.maryland.gov/coronavirus.
“If we do not act to support our business community during this emergency, then the economic risk to our industries, our small business employers, and above all, the livelihoods of our Maryland residents, will linger, even after we hit the downside of the curve and the pressure on our health care system eases,” said Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schultz. “Our small businesses must survive and our people must have jobs they can return to when things return to normal. So we’re acting to ensure that.”
Maryland Labor Secretary Tiffany Robinson said small businesses can apply now for up to $50,000 in flexible funding the COVID-19 Layoff Aversion Fund, and will receive a reply within two business days of submitting an application.
“We know how important it is to provide immediate relief during this rapidly evolving state of emergency. So we are cutting through all the red tape in order to get our businesses the help they need right now,” Robinson said.
Robinson said the grants can be used to purchase telework software, sanitize facilities or to pay for liability insurance for changing business models, such as restaurants who are now providing delivery services.
For those who have already been laid off, Robinson said the state’s unemployment insurance program “is fully operational and remains dedicated to helping employers and employees who have been affected by COVID-19. If you’ve been laid off, you can file a claim immediately, by phone, email or submitting an application online.”
Hogan also announced an executive order to protect families from price gouging in the case of much needed household items.
“Retailers who attempt to exploit this crisis for profit or gain will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Hogan said.
Hogan said plans are underway to add more hospital beds, including the reopening of the Laurel Hospital, plans to use FedEx Field as a drive-thru testing site and to fast track COVID-19 testing capability without waiting for federal action or FDA approval.
“The truth is that none of us really know how bad it’s really going to get or how long it’s going to last, but I can promise you that there are a great many dedicated people doing some tremendous things, working around the clock and doing their very best to keep the people of Maryland safe. And we are all of us, in this together, and together we will get through this,” Hogan said.
Asked how long the current state of emergency was going to last, Hogan said, “Nobody has the perfect crystal ball to say exactly when are we going to peak and are these actions going to help or not,” noting that Maryland was one of the first states to take action. “We’re hoping that these actions will help us to not be as badly affected as some other states or to help slow the curve, but we know that we have not yet hit the peak and we know that the numbers are going to dramatically rise.”
Hogan said the steps taken have been necessary to save lives despite the cost to businesses.
“I think the economic damage could be significant,” Hogan said. “If we don’t take these steps, hundreds of thousands or millions of people are going to die in America. If we do take these steps, hundreds of thousands or millions of people are going to be hurt economically. It’s a terrible choice, and so the solution is we help both. We try to save lives and we try to save the economy.”