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On Monday, multiple governors issued stay-at-home orders, among them Virginia’s Democratic governor and Maryland’s Republican governor, who both barred all “non-essential” activities outside the home effective that day. The same day that its neighboring governors were announcing their “stay-at-home” orders, the District of Columbia’s Democratic mayor issued her own lockdown declaration, and raised the stakes — threatening hefty fines and even jail-time for those caught outside their homes in “non-essential” activity.
In a press release Monday, the office of Washington D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D) threatened residents of the city with fines of up to $5,000 and 90 days of imprisonment if they violated her stay-at-home order.
“Today, due to an increasing number of coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Washington, DC and across the region and the nation, Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a stay-at-home order for the District of Columbia. This order reinforces the Mayor’s direction to residents to stay at home except to perform essential activities,” the press release reads.
“Our message remains the same: stay home,” said Bowser in a statement included in the release. “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.”
The mayor’s office then specified what were considered “essential” activities:
- engage in essential activities, including obtaining medical care that cannot be provided through telehealth and obtaining food and essential household goods;
- perform or access essential governmental functions;
- work at essential businesses;
- engage in essential travel; or
- engage in allowable recreational activities, as defined by the Mayor’s Order.
Anything other than those specified activities, the order warns, could result in severe penalties. “Any individual who willfully violates the stay-at-home order may be guilty of a misdemeanor and, upon conviction, subject to a fine not exceeding $5,000, imprisonment for not more than 90 days, or both,” the release reads.
As reported by the New York Post, D.C.’s chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which has been leading the charge on getting “vulnerable” prisoners released due to the threat posed by COVID-19 in confinement, responded to Bowser’s threat with a simple question.
“When we saw this order, we thought, ‘You want to send them where?’” ACLU of D.C.’s Executive Director Monica Hopkins told the Post. “People being arrested for that causes all sorts of problems that are antithetical to the goals of lessening the virus.” If anyone were in fact arrested for violating the district’s stay-at-home order, said Hopkins, the group would be “deeply concerned.”
The Post notes that the ACLU of D.C. “filed a lawsuit Monday seeking the appointment of an expert to help depopulate the city’s only jail of elderly, health-compromised and non-violent inmates.”
While Bowser is threatening to escalate the home “lockdown” situation, Maryland’s Republican governor is trying to strike a balance between asserting government control and giving residents a sense of at least some measure of continued freedom.
“We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay at home. We are directing them to do so,” Gov. Larry Hogan announced during a press conference Monday. “No Maryland resident should be leaving their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason, such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking medical attention or for other necessary purposes.”
“People are not locked in their homes,” Hogan made a point of stressing. “We’re just telling people that they need to stay in their homes except for essential and necessary things.”
“You should be able to get outside for your own physical and mental well-being and go for a walk and take your dog for a walk,” Hogan explained. “You should not be going out with a crowd of 100 people congregating in a park somewhere … If your plumbing is leaking all over your house and you have to go out and do something about fixing that — that’s probably a necessary function. But you shouldn’t be out shopping for new carpets or cabinets or, you know, buying furniture or clothing. You should be buying the necessary things you need to survive.”
Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam also announced Monday that he has issued a statewide “stay-at-home” order, which is effective immediately and will remain in place for six weeks, until June 10.
“The order directs all Virginians to stay home except in extremely limited circumstances,” the governor’s office said in a statement Monday. “Individuals may leave their residence for allowable travel, including to seek medical attention, work, care for family or household members, obtain goods and services like groceries, prescriptions, and others as outlined in Executive Order Fifty-Three, and engage in outdoor activity with strict social distancing requirements. The executive order also directs all Virginia institutions of higher education to stop in-person classes and instruction. Private campgrounds must close for short-term stays, and beaches will be closed statewide except for fishing and exercise.”