By Brent Abel and Rina Torchinsky

Staff writers

Gov. Larry Hogan encouraged Marylanders to stay home during the holidays, announcing additional restrictions on gathering sizes at a press conference Thursday. He also announced several economic relief measures.

The conference comes the same week Maryland health care workers received some of the first doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine. There are 1,702 people currently hospitalized, according to the state’s dashboard, and the state’s seven-day positivity rate is 7.73 percent.

Hogan announced a state public health advisory lowering the gathering limit from 25 to 10, along with an emergency order restricting travel to essential purposes only. Anyone who travels outside the state must undergo COVID-19 testing or self-quarantine for 10 days.  

Hogan added that Santa Claus, “all non-human elves affiliated with Santa” and reindeer are all exempt from the restrictions. Santa said he will be wearing his mask, Hogan said.

Hogan also announced that the state will institute mandatory telework for all state employees capable of working remotely. Starting Monday, all state-led in-person customer operations will be temporarily suspended for the next two weeks. 

[All Maryland hospitals will have COVID-19 vaccine doses within two weeks]

The governor also announced an additional $180 million in state economic relief, including $50 million to help hotels and hospitality businesses across the state and an additional $30 million to support restaurants.

Hogan also announced an additional $15 million to support entertainment venues and $5 million to bolster rural businesses. 

“This has been an incredibly long and very difficult year for each and every one of us,” Hogan said. “We are all weary, and we are ready to put 2020 behind us.”