Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) on Sunday pushed back against pressure to lift his stay-at-home order, saying he respects the rights of demonstrators who gathered over the weekend to protest the restrictions but that it is too soon to safely reopen the state.
Hogan pointed to the crowds of people gathered at the Mall and in other public spaces to enjoy the weekend's temperate spring weather as cause for concern — an example of why he is reluctant to immediately lift measures designed to contain the deadly coronavirus.
“You see this happening around the country as states try to open in a safe way,” Hogan said during an appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
He continued: “Unfortunately, the pressure is to do it in a not-safe way, and that’s something that we’re very concerned about and one of the reasons we’re being cautious, and trying to do things in a slow, safe and effective manner.”
Maryland, Virginia and the District reported 85 additional covid-19 deaths, along with 2,148 new coronavirus infections. As of Sunday, the region had recorded a total of 2,192 deaths and 49,149 confirmed cases of the virus.
In Virginia, there were 44 new deaths reported overnight for a total of 660. Fairfax County saw its highest single-day increase with 31 fatalities, bringing its death toll from the virus to 184. More than 700 residents in the county have been hospitalized with covid-19.
John Silcox, a spokesman for the Fairfax County Health Department, said the spike reported Sunday was the result of deaths that occurred throughout the month of April but were not confirmed as covid-19-related until recently.
In a message to residents, Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large) warned that the county is “in the exponential growth phase of our epidemic curve” and said residents could expect to see cases and deaths increase for several more weeks. He also noted, however, that known infections in Fairfax, as in other jurisdictions, were growing because of increased testing.
D.C. officials reported 11 new deaths Sunday, bringing the toll in the nation’s capital to 251.
In Maryland, an additional 30 deaths were reported, including 13 in Montgomery County. Prince George’s County added eight new deaths. A total of 1,281 people statewide have succumbed to the disease.
On a positive note, for the third consecutive day the number of covid-19 patients hospitalized statewide in Maryland decreased. As of Sunday, there were 1,635 patients in the hospital, the lowest number in five days.
Residents across the Washington region have been locked down since late March. Hogan has released a plan that outlines how to reopen the state in three stages and has estimated that the first phase could happen in early May.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also is hearing from residents and businesses who want restrictions eased. Northam’s order closing most nonessential businesses is set to expire Friday, and the governor said last week that he will have guidance Monday on whether he intends to extend the ban.
As of Friday, Northam had lifted a ban on non-emergency procedures for doctors, dentists and veterinarians.
Hogan, Northam and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) have said any reopening of the region would be a coordinated effort. Hogan has said he won’t consider lifting stay-at-home measures until the state sees either a consistent plateau or downward trend in new hospitalizations and new intensive care unit patients.
Even so, he and leaders in other states continue to face pressure from some corners to reopen more quickly. On Saturday, a modest crowd of residents frustrated by the prolonged social distancing restrictions held a rolling “Reopen Maryland” protest from Frederick to Salisbury.
Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) gave the keynote speech and likened Hogan’s restrictions on church gatherings to the autocratic regimes of China and North Korea.
“Everybody has a right to protest and express their feelings,” Hogan said in response, during his CNN appearance Sunday. “Sadly, we had far more people die yesterday in Maryland than we had protesters.”
Separately, a coalition of Maryland religious leaders, business owners and state lawmakers have filed a federal lawsuit, asking a judge in Baltimore to intervene to block Hogan’s restrictions on certain businesses and religious gatherings.
In the court filing, four of Hogan’s fellow Republicans say the governor is picking and choosing which businesses can continue to thrive during the pandemic, while violating the constitutional rights of individuals to gather to worship or engage in political speech.
Big box stores such as Lowe’s and Walmart “are permitted to have hundreds of cars and people because the Governor chose them to be ‘essential’ businesses. However, under the same orders a church may not have anyone in its buildings with limited exceptions for ‘virtual’ services,” according to the filing from Dels. Daniel L. Cox (Frederick), Warren E. Miller (Howard), Neil C. Parrott (Washington), and Robin L. Grammer Jr. (Baltimore County).
The religious leaders involved in the lawsuit say their congregations do not have the equipment to broadcast worship services online or to host drive-in services, and that many of their members do not have the resources to watch online.
Among the businesses, Adventure Park USA in Frederick County said it will lose $700,000 during the spring season if it cannot open in May and has already taken out a $150,000 loan to meet its tax obligations.
Cox, a delegate who represents Frederick and Carroll counties, said in the court filing that he was told by Hogan's advisers that he could be arrested for attending and speaking at a rally protesting the stay-at-home orders.
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci said Sunday that Cox was never told he could not speak.
“We fully respect Delegate Cox’s right to protest and express his feelings, but that doesn’t entitle him to make false and baseless claims.”