Please Note

The Washington Post is providing this story for free so that all readers have access to this important information about the coronavirus. For more free stories, sign up for our daily Coronavirus Updates newsletter.

Maryland will close public schools for two weeks starting Monday, and Gov. Larry Hogan imposed broad restrictions including a ban on gatherings of 250 people or more, the most aggressive steps yet in a region that has started to shut down to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Hours after the announcement, the Washington Archdiocese said it would close 93 Catholic schools in the District and its Maryland suburbs, and suspend public celebrations of Mass in church indefinitely.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency and canceled conferences and out-of-state travel for public employees. Arlington National Cemetery will be closed to visitors starting Friday, with strict rules in place for funerals, and the Smithsonian Institution said the National Zoo and its museums would shut down starting Saturday.

Such changes are critical to limit how quickly the virus spreads, physicians on Hogan’s Coronavirus Response Team said at a news conference with the governor, and to ensure hospitals are not overwhelmed.

“We can all fight back against this virus, and in fact, we need to,” said David Marcozzi, an associate chair at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. “The earlier that we do this, the more layers we put in place, the less this virus can be transmitted.”

Since the first cases of the virus were diagnosed a week ago, the number of people ill from covid-19 in the District, Maryland and Virginia has climbed above 40.

Using his emergency powers, Hogan (R) curtailed hospital visits, closed senior centers, suspended prison visits and ordered state employees who can work from home to do so.

State officials said they were working on plans to provide child care for essential workers, including health-care workers. Day-care centers will remain open for now, but the state is considering whether they must be shuttered, too, officials said.

The governor also activated the National Guard, closed the cruise ship terminal at the Port of Baltimore and sealed off public access to state buildings — including the State House in Annapolis.

“For Marylanders, the actions that I have announced here today will be disruptive to your everyday lives, and they may sound extreme, and they sound frightening,” Hogan said. “But they could be the difference in saving lives and helping keep people safe.”

Hogan said it was “impossible to know how long this threat” will last. Businesses essential to society — grocery stores, restaurants and gas stations — should stay open, he said.

Maryland Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera ordered all civil and criminal jury trials in circuit courts to be suspended between Monday and April 3. Judicial hearings may be conducted during that time, Barbera said in a statement.

Hogan announced the state’s first coronavirus cases March 5 and declared a state of emergency to speed the delivery of funding and other resources. Since then, eight more cases have been diagnosed — although the state’s official tally is 12, because one of those eight patients lives in Montana and has not been formally classified as a Maryland case.

The governor and other officials said they are particularly concerned that one of the cases reported in Maryland over the last week — a person from Prince George’s County — appears to be a “community transmission.” That means the patient is not known to have been exposed to someone else confirmed to have the virus. Virginia and the District have also reported community transmissions.

In the District, which has reported 11 cases, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser declared a state of emergency Wednesday.

Northam (D), a pediatrician by training, said Virginia is developing its own coronavirus tests, and urged public schools to make their own decisions on whether to cancel classes. Loudoun County Public Schools will be closed through next week. Fairfax County, the region’s largest school system, announced late Thursday that it would be closed Friday and was cancelling after-school activities and field trips through April 12; Fairfax schools were already slated to be closed Monday so staff could prepare to teach classes online if necessary.

As Northam announced several newly diagnosed virus cases, he criticized the federal government’s response to the outbreak, saying, “It has become clear to everyone that states . . . need to take a greater leadership role.”

“We have new cases in Virginia just since I spoke to you all yesterday. And quite frankly, we’re getting mixed messages from the federal government,” the governor said. “We find that unacceptable, so I’m taking the lead on this.” He did not elaborate on his criticism of the federal government.

In the nation’s capital, a growing sense of urgency took hold. Tours of the White House and the Capitol Visitor Center were canceled until further notice, and officials said access to the U.S. Capitol, as well as House and Senate office buildings, will be shut off to tourists until April 1. Only staff members, the news media and those conducting official business will be able to enter.

Rail ridership dropped by 100,000 trips Wednesday compared with last week as companies encouraged teleworking, Metro board members were told Thursday.

Metro officials said they want to maintain full subway and bus service as long as possible but are preparing for the possibility that they would need to decrease service if too many employees call in sick or work from home.

Arlington’s transit agency is deep-cleaning and sanitizing its buses daily, while libraries have removed “high-touch” items such as shared toys.

A growing list of churches, synagogues, entertainment venues and conference centers have said they would curtail operations or shut down for days.

Washington Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory cited Hogan’s emergency order when he announced Masses would cease after Friday and diocesan schools would be closed from March 16 to March 27. He said weddings and funerals may still take place but attendance should be limited to immediate family.

“Please know that this decision does not come lightly,” Gregory said in a statement.“We are profoundly saddened that we are not able to celebrate our sacraments as a community.”

In Maryland, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said the county was entering a “new phase” in its response because of the resident who appears to have contracted the disease without any known travel to hot spots or contact with a known patient.

“We are concerned. We cannot trace at this moment where he was exposed,” Alsobrooks said.

The man, who is in his 60s, is hospitalized in “critical but stable” condition, said Alsobrooks spokesman John Erzen. In the days leading up to his diagnosis, he largely stayed at home, Alsobrooks said. The man came into contact with 12 firefighters over three occasions, including when he was transported to the hospital, officials said.

Virginia officials told House lawmakers in Richmond afternoon of five new cases in the state.

Two of the cases are Fairfax County residents — one in his 60s, the other in his 20s — who had close contact with a woman who tested positive for the virus in North Carolina on March 9. Both men are in isolation at home, officials said.

A third person is from Arlington County and is associated with Christ Church in Georgetown, the house of worship where the rector, the organist and a parishioner from Loudoun County have contracted covid-19.

This person was already quarantined at home when they developed symptoms, and is in good condition, officials said. D.C. officials advised hundreds of people who were at the church on specific dates in late February and early March to stay home and monitor their health for a 14-day incubation period.

No details were initially given about the other two Virginia cases reported Thursday.

Late in the afternoon, the Virginia Department of Health said a person in Loudoun County and a resident of Harrisonburg in their 60s had both been diagnosed with the virus. Two residents of the Newport News area also tested positive — they are believed to have acquired the virus during international travels, the health department said.

The total number of cases diagnosed in the state was not immediately clear.

Meanwhile, Montgomery County Health Officer Travis Gayles said the three people who were first reported to have covid-19 in the Washington region have recovered.

The three individuals — a couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s — had all traveled on cruises along the Nile River in Egypt that have been linked to multiple cases of the virus. They each recently tested negative for the virus and have been released from quarantine, officials said.

But Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said the state’s most populous county still has patients ill with the virus, and will remain vigilant and comply with the new state restrictions.

“We do expect the number of cases to increase,” Elrich said.

Elrich criticized the federal government for not providing greater resources and said the county is facing a “major problem” with the lack of test kits.

In both Virginia and the District, the attorneys general issued warnings against price-gouging and scams following the emergency declarations in their jurisdictions, and urged residents to report suspected wrongdoing.

In Maryland, Hogan tried to reassure residents.

“We will get through this together,” he said.

Vozzella reported from Richmond. Paul Duggan, Fenit Nirappil, Antonio Olivo, Michael Ruane, Katherine Shaver, Patricia Sullivan, Ovetta Wiggins and Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.