Maryland added 22 more covid-19 cases — its largest per-day increase so far — bringing the state’s total to 63. Officials said nearly two-thirds of the state’s reported cases were locally spread and not linked to foreign travel, a major concern and a significant shift from the virus’s early days. Five of the new cases were reported Tuesday evening by Prince George’s County.
Virginia reported 15 more cases, for a total of 67, including the Washington region’s only two deaths so far. The District reported nine new coronavirus patients Tuesday evening, also the largest increase for the city reported in a single day, bringing its total to 32 cases.
A D.C. firefighter-paramedic has tested positive for the coronavirus and is in self-isolation at home, according to the District’s fire chief and president of the union representing firefighters. Fire Chief Gregory M. Dean said the city Health Department is working to trace the firefighter’s past movements and contacts.
The virus’s continuing impact left the region’s economy at a near standstill on a St. Patrick’s Day holiday that normally means crowded bars and restaurants.
Many of those establishments sat empty in the wake of orders by Hogan (R) and D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) this week to temporarily shut down businesses where large groups of people gather.
On Tuesday, Northam (D) also prohibited larger gatherings, though he refrained from ordering businesses to close completely — seeking to balance concerns over public health and the economic damage caused by the pandemic.
In the morning, Northam urged Virginians to follow federal guidelines restricting public gatherings of 10 or more people in any businesses, but he stopped short of declaring a ban.
But by the evening, he said compliance was mandatory. His administration stressed that officials hope enforcement will not be necessary and that Virginians will have the good sense to comply. But aides said they wanted to make it clear that local law enforcement officials have the authority to act if someone defies the order.
“Our strategy must focus on mitigating and slowing down the spread of this virus so that our medical system has more time to prepare,” Northam said at a news conference in Richmond, where he also announced that the state Department of Motor Vehicle offices will close.
“Every one of us has a role in being part of the solution,” Northam said. “That means do not go to St. Patrick’s Day parties tonight. If you do, you are literally putting others at risk.”
The popular Virginia Gold Cup horse-racing event in Great Meadow was postponed from May 2 to June 20, organizers said.
Hogan (R) delayed Maryland’s April 28 primary until June 2. A special election also scheduled for April 28 to fill the remaining term of the late congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) will be mail-in only.
“It would endanger public health to allow thousands of people to assemble in places like schools and senior centers, which are already closed under the state of emergency,” Hogan said from Annapolis. “It would put Marylanders at risk, especially the poll workers and election judges, most of whom are retirees and in the most vulnerable population.”
Both Hogan and Northam said a shortage of available test kits from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has made it more challenging to gauge the true impact of the disease.
In Maryland, Montgomery County added the most reported cases in the state Tuesday, with nine more for a total of 24. In Virginia, Arlington County had the largest increase, with four more cases for a total of 13.
Hogan unveiled plans to convert state vehicle emissions inspection sites into drive-through testing centers. But, he said, his administration will hold back on opening those centers until labs have the capability to run the samples. Otherwise, it would create “false hope.”
Meanwhile, health-care workers were preparing for an influx of patients by freeing up beds and expanding testing capability.
Local officials worked to allay public concerns as neighborhoods and commercial areas grew more deserted and additional public events were canceled.
Both the D.C. federal appeals court and Virginia’s Supreme Court scaled back operations Tuesday, while Metro further cut back transit services. The reduction, with trains running every 15 minutes starting Wednesday and buses operating on a Sunday schedule with some extra routes, will help protect workers and corresponds with a 70 percent drop in weekday ridership in recent days, Metro officials said.
In Fairfax County, where the county’s two additional cases brought its total to 12, the Board of Supervisors unanimously approved a state of emergency declaration that allows for easier access to state and federal funds — a step several other jurisdictions in the region have already taken.
During a special board meeting, Chairman Jeff C. McKay (D) said the county is doing all it can to keep people safe.
“We will make it through this,” McKay said as he and his nine board colleagues sat at least six feet apart to avoid the spread of germs. “We will have battle scars without a doubt. But we will make it through this as a resilient community.”
In the District — where the Catholic Church’s Basilica of the National Shrine joined other religious institutions in temporarily closing its doors to the public — the council adopted emergency legislation that halted evictions and utility shut-offs. The measure was quickly signed by Bowser.
Among other things, the new law allows residents who lose their jobs or suffer losses in pay while quarantined to more easily receive unemployment benefits. It gives Bowser the ability to extend the deadline for renewing benefits including welfare and food stamps and licenses, including driver’s licenses.
Bowser will be able to put families experiencing homelessness in interim housing for up to 60 days and can extend that during the emergency. The bill also pushes back Thursday’s deadline for Bowser to submit the budget for fiscal 2021 to the council to May 6.
The legislation prohibits price-gouging and stockpiling during the public health emergency. It allows the council and Advisory Neighborhood Commissions to meet virtually.
“I am well aware that the potential economic damage to individuals and businesses is far greater than the relief this bill provides,” said Council Chairman Phil Mendelson (D). “I do not expect that this bill is the final and last act. We will continue to look for relief.”
Concerns about the economic impact of the disease grew as businesses affected by the bans in the District and Maryland shut their doors.
Eight D.C. alcohol inspectors visited 865 establishments Monday night and found only two operating in violation of the city’s ban on on-site dining and drinking, said a spokesman for the Alcohol Beverage Regulation Administration. Buho’s in Columbia Heights and El Rincon in Adams Morgan both closed shortly after inspectors discovered them still open.
Some businesses began to lay off workers. Compass Coffee, with 12 locations in the District and Virginia, dismissed 150 of its 189 employees Monday night, though the company said six locations will remain open to sell takeout drinks and tins of coffee.
“Our business is down 90 percent,” the company posted on Instagram. “We simply ran out of work, and could not afford to pay people without things for them to do.”
Alexandria Mayor Justin Wilson, whose city has reported two cases, said the economic forecast doesn’t look good.
“We will have residents unemployed and underemployed, families experiencing food and housing insecurity, children suddenly in need of care, small businesses suffering severe degradation of revenue,” Wilson (D) wrote to the rest of the City Council on Tuesday.
At least 12.7 percent of Alexandria’s revenue comes directly from consumption taxes — dining, hotel, business license and sales taxes — putting more than $100 million in annual city revenue at risk, Wilson said.
Others tried innovative ways to stay afloat. In Maryland, several distilleries began making hand sanitizer to help fill an expected shortage of that product while making good use of their alcohol.
Distilleries, which typically produce whiskey or bourbon, have the machinery and expertise to make alcohol-based disinfectants, said Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Distillers Guild.
Edgardo Zuniga, who owns Twin Valley Distillers in Rockville, said his business is making several hundred bottles of lemon-scented hand sanitizer, some of which will probably be donated to Montgomery County government agencies.
Zuniga said he intends to eventually sell the hand sanitizer at an affordable price. “I’m not making ethanol to get rich,” he said. “It’s our chance to do something.”
Rafael De La Paz, whose La Finca Mexican restaurant was one of the few places opened in Arlington’s normally trendy Clarendon neighborhood, said he wants things to return to normal.
“I don’t want to close,” De La Paz said, through an interpreter, as a handful of customers ate or sipped margaritas during happy hour. “I want to be able to take care of the customers.”
Schneider reported from Richmond. Erin Cox, Luz Lazo, Rebecca Tan, Patricia Sullivan, Darran Simon, Fenit Nirappil, Justin George, Ovetta Wiggins, Rachel Weiner and Peter Hermann contributed to this report.