City, medical providers announce partnership on COVID-19 response; testing site to be built at Pimlico

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Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young speaks outside City Hall on April 3. Image via the mayor’s office.

As the city braces for a likely surge in COVID-19 cases, Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced a public-private partnership with a group of prominent local medical providers to coordinate resources during the response to the virus.

Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the partnership will conduct testing, expand call center operations, develop messaging to inform the public about COVID-19, share data on medical supplies and hot spots for infections, and support vulnerable populations such as the homeless, seniors and people in detention centers.

In a few days, the city will launch online resources to help residents understand the risks and symptoms of the virus, as well as guidance on self-isolation, social distancing and quarantining, Young said.

“We’re committed to scaling up our resources to this emergency, leveraging the wealth of medical and public health expertise here in Baltimore City,” Young said.

The mayor also announced the Maryland National Guard is working to build a drive-thru testing site in the parking lot of Pimlico Race Course. The site will also provide space for other health services as the city responds to the disease.

Johns Hopkins Health System, the University of Maryland Medical System, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield Medstar Health, Mercy Medical System, St. Agnes, LifeBridge Health, and Greater Baltimore Medical Center are the health care providers in the partnership.

As of Friday morning, the city had 313 confirmed cases of COVID-19. Four Baltimoreans have died of complications from the disease.

Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University of Maryland Medical System, said his organization is currently able to meet the demands presented by the pandemic, but medical professionals recognize there’s an impending surge in cases.

“That is where the anxiety comes in regarding the ability to continue to protect our workforce and provide the critical health care resources that our patients and community need,” he said.

Seeing what has happened in hot spots like New York City, where at least 1,584 people have died from the virus, officials are stepping up their efforts to gather more medical resources and prepare for more cases, he said. It’s also why officials are promoting social distancing and other methods to slow the spread of COVID-19, or “flatten the curve.”

Suntha said that, based on current models of the virus, the peak of a surge in cases could come in a few weeks or a month.

The partnership will help to identify challenges specific to Baltimore and how to address them, he said.

“We look forward to this very unique partnership as we address what is described appropriately as an unprecedented health care challenge to our communities,” he said.

Johns Hopkins Health System president Kevin Sowers said he and Suntha have partnered to make sure both medical organizations have enough equipment, such as ventilators, to care for people if the state is able to successfully flatten the curve.

But if people don’t follow the guidelines issued by the state and that effort fails, “clearly we will face issues of scarcity of resources around particular pieces of equipment like ventilators,” he said.

Young reiterated his call for Baltimoreans to have six feet of separation when in public, saying he’s been around the city and seen people at bus stops clustered together or drug dealers who are standing too close.

“We must take social distancing seriously,” he said. “I’m asking and pleading so that we don’t spread this to our loved ones as we go back home or to other places that we visit.”

He also noted that Gov. Larry Hogan’s “stay at home” order only allows residents to leave their homes for an essential reason, such as getting groceries or medicine, visiting a doctor or working an essential job.

“If you don’t have to come out, stay home,” he said.

Brandon Weigel


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