Maryland will reduce indoor operations for bars and restaurants from 75% to 50% in response to rising coronavirus cases and increased hospitalizations, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday.
The new limits will take effect Wednesday at 5 p.m.
“Last week, I said that the warning lights were starting to blink on the dashboard and that it appeared we were approaching a critical turning point in the fight. Today, I’m reporting that we have now crossed over into the danger zone," Hogan said at the news conference. "Too many residents and businesses have COVID fatigue and have begun letting their guard down.”
State health officials also have issued a public health advisory effective immediately to strongly discourage indoor gatherings of 25 people or more at family gatherings or house parties. Contact tracing data have shown an increase in cases resulting from such gatherings.
In addition, health officials issued an emergency order expanding hospital surge capacity. It provides flexibility to shift patients to alternate care sites and add capacity, if the need arises.
The announcement came after the state reported earlier in the day that 54 more people were hospitalized with COVID-19 compared with the previous day. The total number of people hospitalized with the disease increased to a total of 761, the highest since June.
The decision to reduce bar and restaurant capacity was promptly criticized by Maryland's chapter of the National Federation of Independent Business, which represents thousands of small businesses in the state.
“Instead of penalizing those business owners who are following the rules and already in danger due to lower revenues and fewer customers, the state should continue pursuing aggressive enforcement actions against willful violators,” said Mike O’Halloran, director of the Maryland chapter. “This step backward could do irreparable damage to an industry already on the brink.”
Maryland reported 1,338 new cases on Tuesday. It marks the seventh straight day the state has had at least 1,000 cases. Maryland has reported more than 156,000 virus cases in total. The state also reported 12 more deaths. Maryland has reported at least 4,084 virus-related deaths since the pandemic began.
The Republican governor also has directed state government to return to a period of mandatory telework across state agencies except for essential services. State officials also are strongly encouraging businesses to take immediate steps to expand telework.
Hogan has directed the state health department to issue an expanded public health advisory for out-of-state travel. Maryland residents are strongly advised against traveling to any state with a positivity rate above 10% or any state with average case rates above 20 per 100,000 people.
New guidance for nursing homes and assisted living facilities also has been issued by state officials. Staff should minimize contact with large gatherings and work with their management on communicating early about infection control issues at their facilities, the governor’s office said. Residents should get tested for the coronavirus before they visit, under the guidance.
Hogan also confirmed at the news conference that Robert Neall, the state health secretary, is retiring Dec. 1.
Meanwhile, the state health department announced the launch of a new app for people with smartphones to receive notification if they might have been exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.
Starting Tuesday, state residents with an iPhone or Android smartphone will receive a push notification inviting them to receive exposure alerts. IPhone users can opt in by enabling exposure notifications in settings and selecting Maryland as their region. Android users can opt in by installing the MD COVID Alert app from the Google Play Store. The app is free and voluntary. Users can disable exposure notifications at any time.
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