Updates from State and Local Officials on the Coronavirus
Three new cases of COVID-19 were reported in Maryland late Wednesday, bring the state’s total to 12.
Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced that a Montgomery County man in his 20’s who recently traveled to Spain tested positive, as did a Baltimore County resident who worked at the recent American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference in Washington, D.C.
Neither person has been hospitalized.
A Prince George’s County resident in his 60’s whose travel history is under investigation has also been infected.
The state Department of Health notified officials in the three counties and has begun investigating potential exposure risk to the community.
The three cases were announced just hours after Hogan disclosed that a Montana woman traveling in Maryland to visit family tested positive. Her case will be recorded as a Montana case for record-keeping purposes.
The woman, who is in her 70’s, was tested at an undisclosed Anne Arundel County hospital after being informed that she had been in close contact with a confirmed case.
At an afternoon briefing for reporters, Hogan said the woman interacted with an infected person out of state and then traveled to Maryland. She is currently hospitalized at an unidentified hospital here and at press time was listed in fair condition.
Hogan said the facility where she was tested took “all of the necessary precautions” to protect other patients and hospital staff. The Maryland Health Department is tracing her contacts.
Regarding the 12 Marylanders who traveled aboard the Grand Princess, the cruise ship that spent several days stranded off the California coast, Hogan expressed frustration with the federal government.
After initially saying that the 3,000 passengers, including the dozen from Maryland, would be transferred to military bases in Texas and Georgia for testing and quarantine, the federal department of Health and Human Services abruptly alerted state officials late Tuesday that they were to be transported home.
“We want these Marylanders to be able to come home,” Hogan said. “However, we also want to take every precaution to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the state. So we have informed the Department of Health and Human Services that they must test all 12 of these passengers…on the military bases before we take any steps to return them here to Maryland.”
Hogan said any passengers who test positive will remain in quarantine at their respective military base. Those who test negative will be “safely transported back here to Maryland.”
The governor said the state still does not know the identities of the 12, nor do officials know where they are or whether family members back home have been kept up to date. He described the lack of information “as a great frustration to me personally.”
“It’s taking days and days to get all of them off in a safe way,” the governor said. “The information from the federal government has not been that forthcoming. We’ve been somewhat frustrated by that.”
Hogan also announced that a Montgomery County “volunteer first-responder” who lives in Prince William County, Va., has tested positive for the coronavirus. The case is “tied to the rector of Christ Church in Washington, D.C.,” the governor said, a reference to the religious leader at a Georgetown church who tested positive after administering communion to his parish last month.
“Our state’s chief epidemiologist has cleared both the fire station and the fire crew where the patient volunteers and has no major concerns regarding potential risk to the community,” Hogan said.
The governor said a team of Health Department officials is being deployed to The Village at Rockville, a retirement community where one of the state’s first confirmed cases attended an event in late February. The Village residents, staff and family members who attended that event will be given the opportunity to be tested.
The governor announced additional steps being taken by state agencies:
- The Motor Vehicle Administration is transitioning to an all-appointments system for all transactions, to reduce foot traffic
- The state’s Health Benefits Exchange is adding a special enrollment period for uninsured persons who wish to purchase health coverage
- The Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services is discontinuing visits for inmates in infirmaries and reducing programs and movement within facilities
- State veterans facilities are being directed to limit visitors, bar anyone exhibiting flu-like symptoms and prohibit international travel by staff
Hogan said schools and day-care facilities “should be prepared, with contingency plans, for potential long-term closures.” Communities should consider postponing mass gatherings, he said, and businesses should prepare for closures that require employees to work from home “for extended periods of time.”
“Marylanders should be taking this pandemic very seriously,” Hogan said. “There may be significant disruption to your everyday lives for a period of time.”
New rules for University of Md. Medical System
In an effort to reduce the number of visitors to their hospitals, the University of Maryland Medical System instituted new policies effective Wednesday.
Under the new “Enhanced Patient Safety Policy” posted on the system’s website:
— All visitors are being required to check in at the front desk
— Visitors may be screened for flu-like symptoms, such as fever, cough or sore throat, “depending on the situation”
— Patients are limited to one visitor at a time, though exceptions can be made for women who are in labor or have just delivered, “end of life” cases, and parents of hospitalized children, provided the parents are asymptomatic
— Visitors who have recently been overseas may not visit an UMMS hospital until they have been in the United States, symptom free, for 14 days
— Relatives and friends of UMMS patients will not be allowed to wait in common areas such as the lobby, waiting areas, chapels, cafeterias or food courts
— No visitors under 18 will be allowed, unless they are the parent of a hospitalized child
— Animal therapy is suspended until further notice
People being tested for possible COVID-19 exposure can have one visitor, provided that person is not ill and does not enter the patient’s room.
The new policies are now in effect at all 11 University of Maryland Medical System facilities.
LifeBridge Health has adopted similar policies at its five facilities.
Visitors may also begin seeing tents set up outside the buildings in anticipation of a need for a large area to screen and triage people who may have COVID-19.
Business tax filing deadlines extended
State Comptroller Peter V.R. Franchot (D) announced on Wednesday that businesses with certain tax-filing deadlines in March, April or May now have until June 1 to submit their paperwork.
The extension applies to firms filing sales and use tax, withholding tax, and admissions & amusement tax, as well as alcohol, tobacco and motor fuel excise taxes, tire recycling fee and bay restoration fee returns, his office said in a news release.
Businesses that file and pay what they owe by June 1 will not be charged interest or penalties.
Franchot said that if the IRS extends its April 15 filing deadline for corporate and individual income tax returns, Maryland will do so as well.
Business owners who have questions can contact the comptroller’s office at [email protected].
Officials wavering on public events
As health officials warn people to avoid crowds, elected officials in Maryland wrestled with whether to keep a range of public events on the calendar or postpone them. Their decisions varied.
- Franchot cancelled a planned walking tour of the Easterseals Harry & Jeanette Weinberg Inter-Generational Center in Silver Spring that was scheduled for Wednesday.
Baltimore County Executive John A. Olszewski Jr. (D) announced that a town hall meeting on the county budget scheduled for Wednesday evening at Owings Mills High School would be held as planned. His office said that decisions on future town hall meetings “will be made on a case by case basis.”
The county planned to livestream the event for residents who were unable or disinclined to attend. Residents watching from home were invited to provide input on the county’s fiscal year 2021 budget online or via email.
- Howard County Executive Calvin Ball (D) canceled a budget hearing that was planned for Thursday.
“We are canceling the Budget Hearing out of an abundance of caution given recent progression of COVID-19,” Ball said in a statement. “We still want to hear from all our residents and encourage everyone to provide online testimony.”
Policymakers talking coronavirus
Hogan — in his role as chairman of the National Governors Association — was scheduled to deliver a “State of the States” address at the National Press Club in Washington on Thursday, but that talk has been postponed. He was slated to discuss federal-state relations, the response to the COVID-19 outbreak and his infrastructure initiative, according to the NGA.
Montgomery County Executive Marc B. Elrich (D) will host a Facebook Q&A with the county’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, Thursday from 1 p.m.-2 p.m. Montgomery has four of the state’s nine reported coronavirus cases.
Hannah Gaskill contributed to this report.