Situation Is ‘Escalating Rapidly,’ Hogan Says as Coronavirus Cases Mount

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) flanked by an array of state and local officials at a State House news conference on COVID-19 earlier this month. Photo by Hannah Gaskill

Like the first three Maryland residents who tested positive for the coronavirus, the latest two contracted the disease during overseas travel, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said Monday.

A Harford County woman in her 80’s became ill with COVID-19 while traveling in Turkey, Hogan said, and is now being treated at a Maryland hospital.

A Montgomery County man in his 60’s contracted the virus while traveling in Thailand and Egypt. He was “briefly hospitalized and is now quarantined,” the governor said.

Four hours after Hogan’s news conference, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) tweeted that a county resident had tested positive for the coronavirus, and promised to provide more details at a news conference Tuesday morning.

Hogan said earlier in the day that the health risk to the public is low, as “neither of these individuals attended any gatherings or events.” The state Department of Health reported there is no connection between the two new cases and the first three, which were discovered last week.

“So far we have no cases of transmission here in the state of Maryland,” Hogan told reporters at a Monday afternoon news conference.

Hogan said six Maryland residents traveled on the same Egyptian cruise ship on which an elderly Montgomery County couple contracted the coronavirus, though on different dates. Of the six, “two of them are experiencing symptoms.”

All six are now in “self-quarantine” and are going to be tested.

In addition, the federal department of Health and Human Services has notified the state that there are 12 Marylanders on board the Grand Princess, a large cruise ship that has been stranded off the California coast because 21 people — almost all of them crew members — tested positive for coronavirus.

The Maryland passengers will be transported to Texas and Georgia to undergo examination — and, potentially, treatment — at military bases.

“We have been told that the 12 Marylanders are not currently exhibiting symptoms and we are working closely with our federal partners,” Hogan said.

Maryland is one of 35 states with at least one confirmed case. Nationwide there have been 600 cases, with 22 fatalities. Hogan said it’s highly likely that the numbers will continue to grow.

“As we begin to expand our testing, we can expect the number of cases to continue to rise,” he said. “We will begin shifting from containment to mitigation.”

The governor has created a new Coronavirus Response Team to help guide the state’s response.

The panel will meet for the first time on Tuesday and will include several experts in infectious disease:

  • Wilbur Chen, MD, Associate Professor of Medicine, University of Maryland Baltimore
  • David Marcozzi, MD, Associate Professor and Associate Chair of Population Health, Department of Emergency Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine
  • Lisa Maragakis, MD, Senior Director of Infection Prevention, Johns Hopkins Health System
  • Tom Iglesby, Director of the Center for Health Security, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health
  • Steve Evans, Executive Vice President, Medical Affairs and Chief Medical Officer, MedStar Health
  • Linda Singh, Interim Executive Director and CEO, TEDCO; Major General (Retired), Maryland National Guard
  • John Loome, MD, Senior Vice President for Medical Affairs and Geriatrician, Genesis Healthcare

Several top state officials will also serve on the task force:

  • Robert Neall, Secretary, Maryland Department of Health
  • Fran Phillips, Deputy Secretary for Public Health, Maryland Department of Health
  • Rona Kramer, Secretary, Maryland Department of Aging
  • Karen Salmon, State Superintendent, Maryland State Department of Education
  • Ted Delbridge, Director, Institute for Maryland Emergency Medical Services System

Hogan also announced a ban on out-of-state travel for all state employees and said that agencies are being advised “to prepare for a period of mandatory telework.” Hogan said he will meet on Tuesday with representatives of the state’s long-term care industry.

Based on guidance from federal officials, Hogan said the state is “advising people over 60 to stay home as much as possible, to avoid large crowds and gatherings, and we are advising nursing homes and retirement communities to closely monitor residents and employees for fever and respiratory symptoms.”

The governor signed emergency legislation on Monday freeing $50 million from the state’s rainy day fund to address the coronavirus outbreak, and he thanked the legislature’s presiding officers for the speed with which they moved that measure.

Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) met privately with Hogan on Monday and offered brief remarks at his news conference.

Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman (R) attended as well.

Ferguson and Jones introduced legislation late Monday that they said would “increase access and reduce barriers to healthcare access and protect Marylanders during this State of Emergency.”

The measure would reduce the cost of coronavirus tests, improve tele-health, ensure that people under quarantine cannot lose their jobs, and prohibit price gouging.

Sen. Clarence K. Lam (D-Howard), a physician, worked with Jones and Ferguson on the bill.

For the second time in a week, Hogan — in his role as head of the National Governors Association — attended a coronavirus response meeting in the White House Monday. The session, held in the Situation Room, had nearly all of the nation’s governors participating via conference call.

He also appeared on CNN.

The Trump administration has been accused of sending mixed messages, with the president seeming to downplay coronavirus concerns even as top health officials and his own coordinating council are sounding the alarm.

Regarding Trump’s “wording and messaging,” Hogan said, “It’s not the way that I would have done things.”  But he praised Vice President Mike Pence and the rest of his team “for being very communicative with the state governments. … This is the second time in a week that I’ve been in the Situation Room with almost all of my fellow governors from around the country and all of the top officials.”

“I’m not sure that all of the messaging that comes out of the president to the media has been perfect, but the cooperation from the rest of the administration… we’ve had great cooperation and communication.”

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