Health Department Officials Warn Against COVID-Fatigue, Urge Marylanders to Continue Masking and Distancing

Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall brief the Joint COVD-19 Response Legislative Workgroup Wednesday. Screenshot by Hannah Gaskill

Health Department officials warned lawmakers at the Joint COVD-19 Response Legislative Workgroup on Wednesday of what may come in the next few months as Maryland’s COVID-19 infections, deaths and hospitalizations continue to sky rocket.

“We’re at a point where help is not coming from the federal government fast enough,” Maryland Department of Health Secretary Robert R. Neall said Wednesday morning. “Simply put, all Marylanders must take individual action to slow the spread. The Health Department can’t do it; the Senate of Maryland can’t do it; the House of Delegates can’t do it. Individual people acting on their own are the only people [who] can do it.”

This was likely one of the last public appearances Neall will make as department secretary. His retirement was announced by Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) at a news conference last week. He’s set to leave the agency on Dec. 1.

“These last three years, though trying, have been very rewarding and I simply do not have the strength and vitality to continue,” he told the Workgroup Wednesday. “You have to know when to say when.”

Neall stressed the importance of wearing face masks, keeping socially distanced, reducing the amount of time spent outside of home, washing hands frequently and cooperating with contact tracers. 

Since Maryland stood up its CovidLINK contact tracing program in June, more than 64,000 cases have been investigated and over 85,000 contacts reached.

Acknowledging the impending holidays this month and next, Neall also emphasized the importance of reducing travel to states with a positivity rate above 10% or with average case rates above 20 per 100,000 ― which he stated is “just about everywhere.”

“If everybody does that, that’s going to make a big difference,” he said.

According to Dr. Jinlene Chan, acting deputy secretary of public health services, Maryland’s average case rate currently stands at 31 confirmed infections per 100,000.

The state tests about 30,000 people each day.

As of Wednesday morning, Maryland’s positivity rate stood at 6.82%. This concerning trend began earlier this month when the positivity rate breached its 5% threshold for the first time since June. 

There are 1,144 Marylanders currently hospitalized for COVID-19 ― 270 of whom are in intensive care.

The highest number of hospitalizations during the virus’ first surge was 1,711.

“We’re well on our way,” said Neall.

Since the pandemic’s start in March, the Department of Health has distributed more than 85,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

Neall told the workgroup that his biggest fear is the depletion of Maryland’s stockpile.

The Department of Health has estimated how many days the stockpile will last by dividing the inventory on hand by the burn rate, or how quickly the supplies are used and discarded.

If the state stays at its current burn rate, it has 165 days’ worth of goggles and face shields, 25 days of gloves, a 52-day supply of gowns, 803 days of N95 masks and over 1,000 days of surgical masks.

Should the state’s number of hospitalizations surge to 1,800, those numbers are reduced to:

  • 87 days’ worth of goggles and face shields;
  • 21 days of gloves;
  • A 39-day supply of gowns;
  • 398 days of N95 masks;
  • And 964 days’ worth of surgical masks. 

Emergency orders explained

Tuesday, Hogan introduced several emergency orders intending to reduce the number of infections and hospitalizations across the state.

Chan gave an in-depth recap of Hogan’s orders to House and Senate lawmakers Wednesday morning. Effective on Friday, Nov. 20, at 5 p.m., the state will impose a series of mandates, including:

  • Barring restaurants and bars from serving patrons between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m., with an exception for carryout services;
  • Allowing retail businesses, religious institutions, bingo halls, bowling alleys, roller and ice skating rinks, fitness centers, pool halls and social clubs to function only at 50% capacity; and
  • Limiting observers at racetracks or collegiate and professional sports stadiums to 50% of capacity or 250 people, whichever is less. Functionally, the limit means no members of the public will be allowed.

“This order carries the full force of the law and it will be enforced,” Hogan said Tuesday, emphasizing that the state’s mask mandate remains “in full force and effect” at all public indoor facilities, including on public transportation.

Hogan and the Department of Health have also ceased visitation in hospitals, save for people in end-of-life care, obstetrics, parents or guardians of minors and support for those with disabilities, and will begin allowing hospitals nearing or at capacity to transfer patients to other facilities. 

The Department of Health has also urged hospitals to avoid elective or non-urgent surgical procedures.

Indoor nursing home visitation will be restricted, as well, and all visitors are to have documented proof of negative COVID-19 test results within three days of their visit. Nursing home residents to be tested once each week and staff to be tested twice a week.

The Department of Health will be providing point-of-care tests to every nursing home by the end of the week and will continue to supply them through the end of the year, officials said. 

The Joint COVD-19 Response Legislative Workgroup has not scheduled its next meeting.

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