SHUTTING DOWN: Effective immediately, any gatherings or events with more than 250 people are prohibited in Maryland, reports Heather Mongillio on a news conference hosted by Gov. Larry Hogan. He also announced that the Maryland Emergency Management Agency would move to its highest level so it could use all state resources to respond to COVID-19.

  • State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon said all public schools will close for two weeks, starting on Monday, Regina Holmes writes in MarylandReporter.com.
  • Access to government buildings will be severely restricted as part of a wide-ranging set of orders issued Thursday by Gov. Larry Hogan in an effort to mitigate the spread of the COVID-19 virus, reports Bryan Sears reports for The Daily Record.
  • Hogan’s announcement came as a result of Maryland’s first case of community transmission, Mike Hellgren reports for WJZ. The patient is a Prince George’s County resident and had no known exposure to coronavirus through travel or an infected individual.
  • The Port of Baltimore has closed and Archdiocese of Baltimore Catholic schools are closing as well, reports Brandon Ingram for WMAR with a link to a list of more closures.
  • Maryland hospitals have started setting up triage tents to prepare for a potential increase in patients due to coronavirus, Brian Witte reports for the AP.
  • They could be facing some tough math, Meredith Cohn and Hallie Miller write for the Baltimore Sun. “If Maryland had a proportional share of severely ill patients based on its population, hospitals would need roughly 3,700 ICU beds for a moderate outbreak to 53,000 for a severe one. According to the state Health Care Commission from fiscal year 2018, the latest publicly available, the state has only about 1,200 ICU beds,” the article states.
  • Montgomery County Health  Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said the first three Montgomery County patients who contracted coronavirus disease have since recovered, reports Dan Schere writes in Bethesda Beat. He said they were retested and are able to return to their day-to-day activities.
  • Montgomery County will close all libraries and recreation centers county-wide as a preventive measure to slow the spread of COVID-19, reports Sophie Kaplan for The Washington Times. County Executive Marc Elrich made the announcement at a newss conference where he directed all county staff to telework and canceled all county events of 250 people or more.
  • In Baltimore City, city senior centers will be closed except to provide boxed lunches through the end of the month, and evictions are being halted, reports Jayne Miller for WBAL-TV.
  • The Howard County Public School System will not let their students go hungry during the state-mandated emergency school closings for the next two weeks, reports Jess Nocera for Baltimore Sun Media.
  • The University of Maryland announced Thursday that it would begin spring break one day early, reports the staff of the Diamondback. Minutes before the school notified campus of the development in an alert, Gov. Hogan had mobilized the National Guard.
  • With neighboring Harford County and Delaware’s New Castle County having confirmed COVID-19 cases, Cecil County’s county executive said that the virus is “encroaching on Cecil County and our citizens,” reports Jacqueline Covey for the Cecil Whig.
  • More people will be tested, Mary Rose Madden reports for WYPR. “We’re going to be dramatically and rapidly widening the number of people that are going to be able to get tested and will get tested,” Hogan said.
  • As more coronavirus cases spread throughout Maryland, the head of Baltimore’s emergency management office responsible for developing a citywide plan to respond to the virus has been placed on leave, reports Emily Sullivan for WYPR.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY WORKING FAST AS CRISIS HITS: Maryland lawmakers said Thursday they will work through the weekend and prioritize the most “critical” bills for passage in case they need to end the 441st Legislative Session early due to the spread of the coronavirus, Pamela Wood and Luke Broadwater report for the Sun.

  • Maryland senators voted unanimously Thursday to approve a $47.9 billion state budget that includes $10 million to fight the spread of coronavirus and restores funding to health, education and cultural programs cut in Republican Gov. Larry Hogan’s spending plan, Broadwater reports in the Sun.
  • General Assembly leaders also announced the legislature would move to ban rallies and receptions in Annapolis for the duration of the legislative session, which ends April 6, reports Josh Kurtz and Hannah Gaskill for Maryland Matters. Beginning next week, only bill sponsors will be allowed to testify in person during bill hearings; members of the public and interest groups will still be able to submit written testimony electronically.
  • It is clear that in the short term, lawmakers are going to work on priority legislation, including the state budget, which they must by law pass by March 30, reports Danielle Gaines, Hannah Gaskill and Josh Kurtz for Maryland Matters. “Passing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, a major priority of legislative leaders, is also likely on the docket. An expensive plan to renovate the state’s top thoroughbred race tracks is also a top priority,” they continue.

COMMENTARY: GENERAL ASSEMBLY SHOULD GO HOME: The Kirwan bill, sports betting, and a bunch of other bills are not so important to adopt that they should be pushed through in a crisis; especially at a time in which public participation in the legislative process has been throttled, opines Brian Griffiths for Red Maryland. “How can those bills, whether you agree with them or not, be rationally considered while we are in a State of Emergency?” he asks.

MOSBY’S “FUZZY MATH”: An “Operation Crime & Justice” investigation finds faulty data as basis for legislation to curb crime in Baltimore City, reports Joy Lepola for WBFF. For instance, 2017’s felony conviction rate falls from 92% to 56% when dropped cases are taken into account.

SENDING REGISTERED SEX OFFENDERS OFF-CAMPUS: Sen. Katherine Klausmeier (D-Baltimore County) stressed to a panel of Maryland lawmakers on Thursday the urgency of legislation that would require public schools to find off-campus alternative learning arrangements for students who are registered sex offenders, reports Bryan Renbaum for MarylandReporter.com.

BSO TO GET MORE FUNDING: The Baltimore Symphony Orchestra appears to have won an early skirmish in its battle to receive an additional$7.1 million in state funding, reports Mary Carole McCauley for the Sun. Del. Maggie McIntosh indicated Thursday that both the Maryland House of Delegates and state Senate have agreed to restore $1.6 million that Gov. Larry Hogan had removed from next year’s budget.

BAN ON PLASTIC BAGS: The Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill Thursday that would ban plastic carryout bags in most cases, reports Pamela Wood for the Sun. The lopsided 95-38 vote in the Democrat-dominated House came after years of efforts from environmentalists to tax or ban the bags.

  • Maryland would join eight states, including California, New York and Connecticut, that have prohibited single-use plastic bags, report Ovetta Wiggins and Erin Cox for the Post.

TAX ON STREAMING SERVICES: The House also gave final approval to a bill that allows the state to begin charging a tax on digital goods, including streaming services such as Hulu, cellphone apps, movie purchases, software downloads and digital video games, Wiggins and Cox reported.

PARROT PUSHES FOR CONGRESSIONAL RESIDENCY: A state delegate running for Congress believes congressional candidates should live in the district for which they’re running, reports Briana Adhikusuma for Bethesda Beat. The incumbent, Rep. David Trone, represents District 6, but lives just outside it, as allowed by the U.S. Constitution, but Del. Neil Parrott wants to change that.

PANDEMIC’S EFFECT ON STATE’S ECONOMY: Maryland’s Board of Revenue Estimates declined Thursday to make updated projections about how much in taxes the state will collect due to economic uncertainty caused by the spread of coronavirus, reports Luke Broadwater for the Sun.

  • The impact of the virus on local businesses represents a drop in a pond that ripples out to much larger players in the global economy in a variety of fields, reports Adam Bednar for The Daily Record. One industry that may eventually feel the pain of retail stores with fewer sales is the commercial real estate market’s industrial sector, which depends heavily on tenants distributing products to retailers.

THURMONT ELECTRIC BILL GETS HELP: A delegate from the Eastern Shore has stepped in to help Del. Dan Cox (R-Frederick and Carroll) and Thurmont’s efforts to keep its electric costs low for its residents, reports Steve Bohnel for the Frederick News-Post.