News & Politics

Criminal Penalties: D.C. Area Shut Down by Stay-At-Home Orders in D.C., Maryland, Virginia

People visit the Washington Monument with the U.S. Capitol in the background, Sunday, March 15, 2020, in Washington. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Congress has started work on a new coronavirus aid package after the one just approved by the House early Saturday. (AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)

The governors of Maryland and Virginia announced stay-at-home orders on Monday, quickly followed by Washington, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser. These governments are directing residents to stay in their homes except for acquiring food and other essential household goods, obtaining medical care, traveling to perform “essential” work, and a few other exceptions, including outdoor recreation. Any violation of these orders classifies as a misdemeanor with criminal penalties.

Coronavirus cases in D.C., Maryland, and Virginia hit more than 2,800 Monday, more than quadrupling over the last week,” WTOP reported. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has granted D.C. a major disaster declaration, and the LGBTQETC pride parade has been postponed.

Maryland has the highest number of coronavirus cases in the Washington, D.C. area with 1,413 as of Monday morning. Montgomery County and Prince George’s County have the highest numbers in the state and an outbreak at a nursing home in Mt. Airy, Md., has led to 67 people testing positive, one death, and 11 hospitalized.

Virginia has tallied 1,020 coronavirus cases, with the most in Fairfax County (225), Prince William County (87), Arlington County (86), and Loudoun County (61). Washington, D.C. has recorded 401 cases. The number of deaths across the region has more than quadrupled, from 11 last Monday to 49 on Monday. Nearly 30,000 people have been tested for the virus.

Gov. Larry Hogan (R-Md.) led the issuing of stay-at-home orders on Monday. “This is a public health crisis. We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay at home. We are directing them to do so,” Hogan said at a Monday news conference.

Hogan’s order (available here) will go into effect at 8 p.m. Monday. Any violation of the order is considered a misdemeanor, punishable by imprisonment not more than one year and/or a fine not exceeding $5,000.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D-Va.) followed with a stay-at-home order of his own (available here). “This is not a time when we are looking to put people in jail, but it is a time when I expect all Virginians to comply,” Northam said. He noted that “some of our beaches and other recreational areas were literally packed” over the weekend,” so police will enforce the order “if we see people gathered anyplace in Virginia, especially in parks and beaches.” Violation of his order will constitute a Class I Misdemeanor.

Virginians must maintain social distancing of at least six feet between individuals, with the exception of family or household members or caretakers. They may leave their houses to obtain food, seek medical care or essential services, visit a family member, engaging in outdoor exercise, traveling to and from a residence or place of work or worship, traveling to an educational institution, volunteering with charity, or leaving a residence due to a reasonable fear for health and safety.

Bowser issued a similar order after Hogan and Northam. “Our message remains the same: stay home,” the mayor said in a statement. “Staying at home is the best way to flatten the curve and protect yourself, your family, and our entire community from COVID-19. Many people want to know how they can help right now, and for most people this is how — by staying home.”

Violation of the order is a misdemeanor punishable by a $5,000 fine and 90 days in jail.

https://twitter.com/JWPascale/status/1244723627586727937/

“This is insane,” Trump campaign staffer and White House veteran Mercedes Schlapp, wife to American Conservative Union President Matt Schlapp, tweeted. “Criminal penalties? DC. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) creates order that says Washingtonians must stay at home unless they have essential business. The new order carries criminal penalties and fines of up to $5,000.”

The orders may be overly harsh, but stringent restrictions are arguably necessary to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Tyler O’Neil is the author of Making Hate Pay: The Corruption of the Southern Poverty Law Center. Follow him on Twitter at @Tyler2ONeil.