Gov. Larry Hogan announced on Tuesday that he has ordered that Maryland’s primary elections — which were scheduled for the end of next month — to be postponed to early June due to the global outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19).
“I am issuing a proclamation to postpone the April 28th primary to June 2nd — just as a number of other states have done and as other governors are expected to do later today or in the days ahead,” Hogan said at a news conference that was held on the front steps of Government House in Annapolis. “I am directing the State Board of Elections to develop a comprehensive plan by April 3rd to conduct the primary election in a way that protects public health and preserves the integrity of the democratic process in our state.”
However, Hogan said the special general election for the 7th congressional district will not be postponed and still will be held on April 28th. The seat has been vacant since October when Rep. Elijah Cummings (D) died unexpectedly. Hogan said voters in that district are encouraged to cast their ballots by mail.
“It is imperative that the people of the seventh congressional district have a voice in the House of Representatives and that Maryland has a full delegation representing our state in Congress. After consulting with the State Board of Elections, we will be moving forward with the special general election. We believe that they are able to move forward with this special election to fill the Maryland seat. We’re directing the State Board of Elections to implement a vote-by-mail system for the particular election in the 7th district only.”
According to the Maryland Department of Health, Maryland has 57 confirmed cases of Covid-19 as of early afternoon. That number includes one case in Baltimore; however, Mayor Jack Young said Tuesday morning that a second case had been diagnosed in his city. That new case brings the state’s total to 58.
Hogan also said discussions are ongoing to postpone the Maryland Preakness “to sometime in September.” Usually tens of thousands of people attend the annual horse race held at Pimlico in Baltimore. The race is scheduled for Saturday, May 16. Earlier Tuesday it was announced that the Kentucky Derby, which was scheduled for Saturday, May 2, will be postponed until Sept. 5.
Hogan said all vehicle emission inspection sites in Maryland will be transformed into drive-thru coronavirus testing centers.
Maryland Deputy Secretary of Health Fran Phillips said the drive-through testing centers should be available in the near future.
“What we’re doing now is working across all the hospitals in the state as well as the commercials labs to understand exactly what their capabilities are to bring up volumes of testing such that we can support those kinds of drive-throughs.
“We know that this is an issue that people are very concerned about — as well as their doctors — so we are developing that right now as we speak so we have the infrastructure ready as soon as we have the lap equipment capability to go forward with that,” she said.
The state is taking immediate action to encourage social distancing practices at BWI Marshall International Airport, Hogan said. “We are eliminating check-in lines, changing the hours of operation to allow for deeper cleaning of the BWI Marshall terminal and allowing only for carry-out options at airport restaurants.”
Hogan said some transportation-related measures will go into effect on Wednesday.
“Beginning tomorrow we will reduce all local bus, light-rail, Metro and commuter bus services while continuing to prioritize and provide medical trips such as dialysis, chemotherapy, hospitals, clinics and mental facilities. We are reducing hours at the Motor Vehicle Administration and suspending all non-commercial drivers license tests.”
MARC train service will be reduced by 50%.
Maryland Department of Health chief operating officer Dennis Schrader said the state is preparing for the possibility of mass hospitalizations.
“We’re working in collaboration with the Maryland Hospital Association. They’ve got a planning group that we’re working collaboratively with…We’ve got some planning numbers that are coming together over the next couple of days. We’re working with the hospital association on targeted facilities and over the next week we’ll have a lot more detail on that.”
Hogan’s announcement that the primary will be postponed comes just one day after he ordered the closure of all restaurants, bars, movie theaters and gyms in Maryland. The order went into effect at 5 p.m. EDT on Monday. Restaurant carry-out and delivery are still permitted. Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited, the governor said. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidelines on Monday afternoon to discourage gatherings of more than 10 people.
The Maryland General Assembly is scheduled to adjourn on Wednesday due to concerns about the spread of the virus. The legislative session had been scheduled to end on April 6. Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson announced on Sunday that lawmakers will return to Annapolis at the end of May for a special session.