By: Diane Bernard, Public News Service – MD

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Although Maryland courts are closed to help stop the spread of the coronavirus, domestic-abuse victims can still seek protective orders during the pandemic.

Sheltering in place can be dangerous for people trapped in close quarters with abusive partners, says Dorothy Lennig, legal clinic director with theHouse of Ruth, a domestic-violence shelter in Baltimore. She said anyone in Maryland who fears for their life can still go to their local court commissioner’s office, or the one in Baltimore City, and ask to remove the abuser from their home.

“Because the word is that the courts are closed, we’re afraid that some victims of domestic violence, victims of intimate partner violence, don’t realize they can still get a protective order – and that other services are still available to them,” Lennig said.

Lennig said the House of Ruth and shelters around the state are still open and offering resources to help victims and their families. Call 410-889-RUTH for assistance, or theNational Domestic Violence Hotlineat 800-799-7233.

Lennig said Maryland shelters are practicing social distancing, advising residents to remain six feet apart to prevent the spread of COVID-19. She said House of Ruth offers 84 beds in rooms for two and is getting assistance from Johns Hopkins School of Nursing representatives.

“When there’s no pandemic, we would put two single women together in a room,” she said. “But during the pandemic, we’re only putting people who are in the same family together in a room.”

More than 10 million Americans encounter domestic violence every year, according to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Experts fear those numbers will rise as a result of the coronavirus outbreak and the forced isolation needed to combat it.