Ninth COVID-19 Patient Diagnosed, Governor Expects Cases to ‘Rapidly Rise’

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at center, with Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford at left and Hogan's Chief of Staff Matthew Clark at right. Photo by Bruce DePuyt

A Montgomery County resident who traveled aboard an Egyptian cruise ship on which five other Maryland residents contracted the coronavirus has also tested positive for COVID-19, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced late Tuesday.

The woman, said to be in her 60s, is the ninth person in Maryland to test positive.

Three residents of Prince George’s County have also contracted the coronavirus, County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) announced on Tuesday.

They include a couple who took an overseas cruise and a woman in her 50s who became ill after attending a conference in Massachusetts in late February, Alsobrooks said.

Prince George’s County’s Health Department is tracking contacts the three may have had with others. At this point, the risk to the public is “very low,” the county’s health officer said.

All three are self-quarantined at home in good condition, according to Alsobrooks.

Hogan (R) warned on Tuesday that — as testing ramps up — “we should expect that the number of cases will continue to dramatically and rapidly rise.”

Speaking to reporters at the start of a cabinet meeting, Hogan said the state’s biggest concern is the potential spread of COVID-19 at nursing homes and retirement communities. The governor met with representatives of the elder-care industry on Tuesday afternoon.

According to the state’s new recommendation, nursing homes should:

  • restrict access to visitors
  • help residents facilitate online chats with family members and friends
  • ban staff from traveling overseas
  • monitor staff members who have traveled abroad in the last 14 days or had contact with someone who has been overseas during that time, particularly if they have a fever, cough or sore throat.

Health care professionals who develop symptoms should immediately stop work, put on a mask and isolate themselves, Hogan said.

“Older people and those with underlying health conditions are much more vulnerable and at significantly higher risk of contracting the disease,” he said.

The governor said seasonal flu has caused 42 deaths in Maryland. Older people and those with compromised immune systems will be three to five times more likely to die from COVID-19 than from the flu, Hogan said.

Older people should avoid crowds, travel and flying on planes “as much as possible,” he added.

With spring break approaching, with many students traveling overseas and then returning to campus, Maryland colleges and universities began to issue guidelines regarding the coronavirus outbreak.

To reduce the risk to students and faculty, the University of Maryland System began making plans to move instruction online following spring break, which runs from March 14-22.

“I strongly urge every university to prepare for students to remain off campus for at least two weeks following the end of spring break,” University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman said in a statement.

“During those two weeks or longer, all USM universities should be prepared to deliver instruction remotely.”

Perman’s said the “residential nature of the universities within the System” led to the decision to temporarily end in-person instruction.

Each school president will have the discretion to set their own coronavirus policy, he said. Regardless of what they decide, “all campuses will remain open before, during, and after spring break,” Perman said.

Towson University is canceling all classes for the remainder of the week, so that instructors can prepare to move instruction online after spring break.

All non-essential out-of-state travel by Towson students, faculty and staff — including to Washington, D.C. — has been suspended, with the exception of intercollegiate athletics.

On Tuesday Towson recalled all faculty, staff, and students who are currently abroad. On March 6, the school ordered that upcoming trips be canceled.

All Towson University-sponsored events and gatherings also have been canceled.

“Concerns for the safety, well-being, and free movement of our students, faculty, and staff have guided this difficult decision,” the school said in a statement on its website. “Our goal is to reduce the risk of members of the TU community being unable to return home, if further travel restrictions are put into place.”

Similarly, Salisbury University announced Tuesday that following its upcoming spring break, it would hold courses on line until at least April 3.

‘She jumped the gun’

The decision by Alsobrooks to tweet news of the first Prince George’s coronavirus case on Monday evening — and her subsequent announcement about the additional cases at a Tuesday morning news conference — appeared to rankle members of the governor’s staff.

After her press conference was underway, Hogan’s communications director, Michael Ricci, tweeted that the number of confirmed cases remained at six, contradicting her announcement that the number was actually eight.

Asked about this, the county’s health officer, Dr. Ernest Carter, told reporters that his office gets information from the state Health Department but was under no obligation to withhold that information once it arrived.

“You just went through the public information channel,” Carter told reporters. “We get it a little faster than that. So we know that we have those two additional cases.”

Hogan said Alsobrooks was “jumping the gun, and making the announcement as soon as her health department hears about them.”

He immediately softened his stance, saying “as long as the information gets out there appropriately and accurately, we’re fine.”

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