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Hogan announces additional coronavirus enforcement measures

WBAL TV Baltimore logo WBAL TV Baltimore 11/24/2020
Larry Hogan wearing a suit and tie: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan holds COVID-19 update © WBAL Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan holds COVID-19 update

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced additional statewide enforcement measures to fight the COVID-19 surge.

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The governor announced new statewide enforcement efforts that, in addition to traditional efforts ramping up drunken driving patrols ahead of Thanksgiving, the state is launching an all-hands-on-deck compliance, education and enforcement operation to involve the Maryland State Police.

"It is a very serious problem, and we're going to keep messaging everybody to take it seriously. The more seriously we take it, the faster we're going to be able to get it under control," Hogan said during a news conference Monday afternoon.

"This situation is dire," Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said. "We will continue to use the full authority granted to us by Gov. Hogan's executive orders and to us by our county charter to protect our residents."

The MDSP is expanding its COVID-19 Compliance and Coordination Center and deploying "High Visibility Compliance Units" across the state, Hogan said. Additional troopers will be assigned in every county to work in partnership with locals to investigate any reports of violations of state law.

Beginning Wednesday, state troopers will support local authorities with compliance checks, with a focus on educating the public about existing orders and protocols, preventing super-spreading events, and assisting in enforcement actions when necessary.

REPORT NON-COMPLIANCE: Effective immediately, the MDSP is operating a 24/7 phone line and email address to support local compliance teams in the field with questions regarding existing orders and enforcement.

The MDSP is also ramping up the COVID Prevention Hotline. Marylanders who see unlawful behavior are encouraged to report it by calling 833-979-2266 or sending an email to Prevent.Covid@maryland.gov.

WIRELESS EMERGENCY ALERT: Hogan said the Maryland Emergency Management Agency will send a wireless emergency alert to cellphones across the state at 5 p.m. Wednesday to remind Marylanders of critical coronavirus prevention measures and provide information about state and local law enforcement actions.

PUBLIC HEALTH CAMPAIGN: The state is also launching a unified public health campaign with public service announcements running on local TV and radio.

Watch the governor's press conference in its entirety:

What restrictions are in place?

The governor's stricter restrictions for visitations at hospitals and nursing homes, and new actions for restaurants and retail took effect at 5 p.m. Friday. Many local jurisdictions went further with more restrictive rules, including Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Harford County and Howard County.

With contact tracing data showing a large uptick in new cases among Marylanders who have been exposed while dining out or shopping, as of last Friday, capacity for bars, restaurants, retail and other facilities was rolled back to 50%.

Based on reports that compliance with public health protocols drops dramatically later in the evening, all establishments where food and/or alcohol is served are now required to close by 10 p.m. with the exception of takeout and delivery.

WBAL-TV 11 News spoke with one restaurant owner who says safety is a top priority.

Cathie Shinnick is a manager and bartender at Mamas on the Half Shell and Nacho Mama's in O'Donnell Square in Canton.

It's a very popular area for nightlife, following safety guidelines, and public health orders, Shinnick says, is a top priority.

"We are very cautious about how many people we have in. 6-foot rule is a huge thing,” Shinnick said.

Restaurant patrons reacted to the restrictions and additional enforcements.

"I think that will definitely be effective because if they're seen, then restaurants will have to comply with those rules so that will def enforce whatever they're trying to keep as a regulation,” said Colleen Clark, a restaurant patron.

“There are ways to be safe because a lot of restaurants are making the accommodation, so I'm excited and I'm glad because then we can all stay out longer,” said Becca MacDonald, another restaurant patron.

Hogan said a public health advisory remains in effect, discouraging any indoor gatherings of 25 people or more, as well as an expanded travel advisory advising against any nonessential travel to states with high positivity rates.

Limitations have been reinstated regarding visitation of hospitals and nursing homes, and Maryland's statewide masking order remains in effect.

The governor said the vast majority of Marylanders and small businesses are doing the right thing by following safety measures and public health orders, but some have become more lax at the worst part of the pandemic.

"I know that there is growing frustration that we're still fighting this virus and many people are struggling emotionally and financially," Hogan said. "This is causing a great deal of stress for nearly everyone, but following the public health directives is the only way that we will be able to stop this virus, to keep Maryland open for business, keep our hospitals from overflowing."

"These rules are in place to save lives. If you are found violating them, you will be held accountable. We will not allow reckless behavior to continue without consequences," Olszewski said. "This is a matter of life and death. If too many people do not comply with the rules, we are left with no choice but to take additional actions to reduce the spread of this virus."

“It helps the restaurants that follow the rules. It hurts us being at 25%. We still have 100% of our rent and bills to pay, but I think it's safer for everyone in the long run," Shinnick said.

Coronavirus cases continue to spike in Maryland

The governor's news conference comes two days after the state recorded its second-highest single-day increase in new coronavirus cases.

As of Monday, Maryland Department of Health data indicated the state has recorded 183,797 coronavirus cases and 4,293 deaths since the pandemic began. On Monday, Maryland's statewide seven-day positivity rate is 6.88%.

Monday was the 20th consecutive day of at or more than 1,000 new cases reported in a day, the longest streak since the pandemic began. The state has recorded more than 2,000 new coronavirus cases on Nov. 14 and then every day since Nov. 17. The largest one-day increase to date was 2,910 on Nov. 19.

Also Monday, the Baltimore Ravens announced that multiple members of its organization have tested positive for the coronavirus, including running backs Mark Ingram and J.K. Dobbins.

Coronavirus hospitalizations increased by 80% over the past two weeks, Hogan said. As of Monday, 1,276 coronavirus patients are currently hospitalized with 289 patients are in the intensive care unit, which is the highest level since June 15.

Hogan said some hospitals in Western Maryland are already at their capacity limit, and 29 hospitals across Maryland are at more than 90% capacity.

On Saturday, the state reported a new daily high of 51,510 tests completed. There are more than 230 testing sites available across Maryland, and the state continues to expand operating hours and staff at community-based sites, Hogan said.

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