Maryland Declared COVID-19 Priority Zone, Hogan Reports

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) during a visit last month to the Baltimore Convention Center, which was in the process of being converted into a field hospital. Now the pop-up hospital is ready for patients. Photo from Governor's office Facebook page.

As the COVID-19 virus continues to spread throughout the Capital Region, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) announced Tuesday that the Trump administration will consider Maryland a priority area, noting the extensive number of federal agencies that are based in the state.

Additionally, U.S. officials have designated Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Prince George’s, Montgomery, Anne Arundel, Howard, Frederick, Harford, Queen Anne’s, Calvert, and Charles counties to be “hot spots.”

“I want to sincerely thank the Trump administration for listening to our concerns, for responding to us and for designating the Baltimore-Washington corridor and these 12 Maryland jurisdictions as priority areas,” he said.

As of Tuesday morning, 4,371 Marylanders have been confirmed to have COVID-19. 

During a news conference held at the newly-completed Baltimore City Convention Center field hospital, Hogan said the state has continued to make “rapid progress” on hospital surge protection efforts, announcing that the pop-up facility has been completed and that an additional 200 ventilators have been received from FEMA.

The governor discussed other requests that were made on behalf of the state, saying that FEMA placed those orders with an eye towards the worst-case scenario.

“We believe that … although we don’t have exact numbers, that we have dramatically lowered the potential for that,” he said.

Hogan also addressed a statement made by Maryland Health Secretary Robert R. Neall concerning pop-up morgues in the state, should they be needed.

During a public meeting with the University System of Maryland’s Board of Regents Monday, Neall stated that the department leased two ice rinks to serve as potential makeshift morgues during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“On the grim side, I leased two skating rinks last week for makeshift morgues, so you know what’s coming,” Neall said during the meeting.

During his news conference, Hogan attempted to walk back the health secretary’s statement, calling it a “false report.”

Michael Ricci, a Hogan spokesman, said the leases haven’t been finalized and that state officials were investigating the possibility of using ice rinks for morgues as part of the Centers for Disease Control guidance on preparedness.

Maryland nursing homes have been hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

In late March, Hogan announced a massive outbreak at the Pleasant View Nursing Home in Carroll County, resulting in 99 confirmed cases and five deaths. But the virus is also present in several other old-age facilities.

In an effort to protect vulnerable populations from further mass infection, the governor declared Monday that any staff member at a retirement home who has face-to-face contact with a resident must be wearing personal protective equipment, create isolation areas and send COVID-19 testing to the state’s public health laboratory for expedited analysis. 

Hogan’s administration is also organizing strike teams comprised of members of the National Guard, state and local health officials, the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems and hospitals to designate emergency care and equipment to nursing homes that request it. 

He said that Maryland is the first state to establish such a team. 

The governor applauded Maryland residents and business owners for largely sticking to his social distancing guidelines, including the stay-at-home directive that was issued last week. 

“However, there are reports of a few businesses that are failing to comply with the law and who are potentially putting their customers and their staff at risk,” he said.

In the instance that there are businesses ignoring his directive, Hogan has declared that local health departments now have the ability to force businesses to modify their operations or even shut them down completely should they not adhere to the social distancing guidelines. 

Failure to comply with the guidelines could result in one year of jail time or a $5,000 fine.

Maryland residents from different walks of life have been participating in the defense effort.

At the news conference, Hogan mentioned by name several Maryland manufacturers that have made personal protective equipment for medical professionals to wear during the pandemic.

Hogan, himself, was clad in a cloth facemask made by inmates from Maryland prison facilities.

“They’re very happy to be doing this and to be a part of the solution and excited to be, you know, in some way helping their fellow Marylanders,” Hogan said.

The governor has given no indication that he will release low-level and vulnerable offenders from prison in the face of the COVID-19 outbreak, despite calls from advocates and a letter from Attorney Brian E. Frosh (D)

A letter from AFT-Maryland President Marietta A. English circulated Tuesday said that Baltimore County Detention Center corrections officers are “in dire need” of personal protective equipment.

Speaking on behalf of public employees across the state, English wrote:

“There are resources our front-line workers need that at this moment, they simply don’t have. Without these key resources, our state and municipalities are knowingly sending workers into harm’s way.”

During the news conference, Hogan said the state has already spent between $1 billion and $2 billion in an effort to fight COVID-19.

He said that Maryland is anticipating “massive budget problems,” but is hoping to avoid major government layoffs. 

Hogan also announced that beginning this week, the Maryland Department of Health is to provide further demographic breakdowns surrounding testing, hospitalization and mortality rates. 

Lawmakers have called for the release of this information in recent days, including Del. Nick J. Mosby (D-Baltimore City) who led the fight to have the information released.

The governor cautioned that the majority of testing is being done by medical professionals and hospitals that are sending tests to out of state labs, so there may “significant gaps” in the data. 

Dr. Tom Inglesby of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health also spoke at the news conference, where he addresses the possibility of easing social distancing down the line.

Inglesby said that because one infected individual can go on to infect two to three more — growing the chain at a rapid pace — the only way to stop its spread is through the social distancing measures that the governor has put into place.

“New generations of cases could occur every five to seven days without social distancing measures,” Inglesby said.

“If this virus were left to spread without social distancing on this scale, the number of sick people — especially the critically ill — could overwhelm our health system.”

Inglesby stated that the last 24 hours have seen lower rates of confirmed cases and hospitalization.

“It’s only one day of data but If confirmed over time, it would be a very good move in the right direction,” he explained, adding that once case numbers consistently decrease officials will be able to discuss easing the stringency of the current social distancing measures. 

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Hannah Gaskill
Hannah Gaskill received her master’s of journalism degree in December 2019 from the University of Maryland. She previously worked on the print layout design team at The Diamondback, reported on criminal justice in Maryland for Capital News Service and served as a production assistant for The Confluence — the daily news magazine on 90.5 WESA, Pittsburgh’s NPR member station. Gaskill has had bylines in The Baltimore Sun, The Washington Post and The Chicago Tribune, among other publications.Before pursuing journalism, she received her bachelor’s of fine art degree from Carnegie Mellon University in 2016. She grew up in Ocean City.