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COVID-19 in Maryland Health Care Working & the Economy

Hogan Wants to Offer COVID-19 Tests at VEIP Stations, Suspends Emissions Testing

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at a March news conference on COVID-19, along with Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips, at center, and State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon. Photo by Bruce DePuyt.

Maryland will not create drive-through COVID-19 testing centers until labs have the capacity to process the samples, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) said on Tuesday.

Public interest in testing is high, the governor acknowledged during a briefing with reporters, but opening testing centers prematurely only creates “false hope” and “chaos,” he said. “We don’t want to make the same mistakes that others states have made.”

“We could get a bunch of people to go through drive-throughs probably tomorrow,” the governor added, “but that would be a really bad idea if we’re not able to do something with them.”

Hogan, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, ramped up his criticism of the federal government, which he said has failed to get test kits and personal protective gear into the hands of the states.

“There’s quite a bit of frustration on the part of all of the governors that we don’t have answers to those questions. We don’t have enough test kits, nor does any other state. And no, the federal government does not have an answer. And we are behind. And that’s going to continue to be a problem that we’re all trying to address.”

Hogan said states are working diligently to boost their capabilities “without the federal government — and we’re also trying to push the federal government to be able to speed up their response.”

Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips said the state is “working with all the hospitals in the state as well the commercial labs to understand what exactly their capabilities are to bring up the volumes of testing such that we can support those types of drive-throughs.’

“We know that this is an issue that people are very concerned about, as well as their doctors,” she added.

Speaking to reporters on the grounds of the governor’s mansion Tuesday morning, Hogan announced several other steps in response to the spread of COVID-19:

— Vehicle inspections are being suspended, and the Health Department and Department of Transportation will “re-purpose” MVA inspection stations for use as “drive-through corona virus testing centers” when they can test samples adequately;

— MARC rail and commuter bus and subway systems are reducing service, in part because most offices have been closed, forcing to people to work from home;

— The state is moving to 100% cashless tolling “to reduce person-to-person interactions”;

— Discussions are underway with the Maryland Jockey Club to postpone the Preakness Stakes, second leg of horse racing’s Triple Crown, to September

He also ordered the state’s April 28 primaries moved to June 2. The 7th Congressional District special election scheduled for the same day will take place, but with mail-in ballots only. The winner of that contest will be sworn in immediately and will serve until January.

Hogan said the number of cases in Maryland rose from 37 to 57, a 54% increase since Monday, the largest one-day spike since the state began tracking novel corona virus cases.

Most new cases are attributable to community contact, not foreign travel, the governor said. He cautioned against reading too much into the increase, “because, in all honesty, the number is likely much, much higher.”

On Monday, Hogan ordered bars, movie theaters and gyms to close. Restaurants may provide drive-through, take- out and delivery service but dining at restaurants is prohibited. Schools are closed and most employers have ordered staff to work from home.

Throughout Maryland on Tuesday, impacts of unprecedented actions the state has taken to reduce social interaction were evident. Weekday, commuter traffic was minimal and communities and business areas were largely quiet.

Some businesses have already laid off workers, and Hogan urged the General Assembly and federal lawmakers to immediately approve legislation that would provide aid to those affected. 

Hogan stressed that Maryland residents can help the state “flatten the curve,” by following the state’s guidelines and using common sense:

— Older people should stay home

— People with underlying health conditions should stay home

— People who test positive should stay home, and people who live with someone who has tested positive should remain at home

— Anyone who is ill or has health questions should contact their healthcare provider

A failure to heed the warnings of health experts, Hogan said, would result in disaster.

“If we do nothing, the numbers are catastrophic and the curve goes straight up like this,” he said, raising his hand high, “and it overwhelms the healthcare system. And we don’t have the acute beds.. the medical personnel.. or the emergency rooms to handle it.”

Dennis R. Schrader, chief operating officer of the Maryland Department of Health, said the state is working with the Maryland Association of Hospitals to  prepare to expand the number of acute care beds that are available, if the number of illnesses surges.

He said officials are evaluating different models and hope they won’t need the 6,000 beds that Hogan has said represent a “worst-case scenario.”

State Superintendent of Schools Karen B. Salmon said she is analyzing local school systems’ remote-learning plans to determine if they are adequate and to ensure that students everywhere are getting appropriate online instruction.

She said she is also looking at “what additional resources counties need right now.”

Hogan urged residents not to engage in “panic-buying” of food or cleaning supplies.

“Instead of hoarding cleaning and hygiene products, share with your neighbors,” he said. “All the stores are going to remain open. They’re all restocking the shelves. We’re not going to run out of those basic necessities.”

Hand sanitizer and disinfectants disappeared from many retail store shelves and online sites days ago and have reappeared in a few stores briefly.

“We’re all in this together, and it will take every one of us, working together, to keep people healthy and to save lives,” he said.

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Hogan Wants to Offer COVID-19 Tests at VEIP Stations, Suspends Emissions Testing