Gov. Larry Hogan speaks at a field hospital in the Baltimore Convention Center. Image via Facebook Live.

With cases of coronavirus in 90 nursing homes across Maryland, the state government is creating “strike teams” made up of local and state health officials, members of the Maryland National Guard and health care providers who can test and treat seniors on-site, Gov. Larry Hogan announced today.

A team of health officials would test residents who have come into close contact with a confirmed case and try to get the fastest possible results. They would also provide instruction for keeping suspected cases among residents and staff separated from the rest of the seniors in the facility.

Maryland National Guard troops would triage residents of senior living facilities and determine what supplies are needed at a site.

And groups of doctors, nurses and nurse practitioners would stabilize residents in order to avoid unnecessary hospital trips.

“The goal here is not to replace a nursing home’s medical and clinical team, but to provide immediate support and assistance to help protect residents of these facilities,” Hogan said at a press conference.

The governor wore a face mask as he toured a field hospital erected inside the Baltimore Convention Center, and only removed it to speak to the media at the podium. He later said the cloth mask was made by Maryland inmates.

Heeding the call of Del. Nick Mosby and 80 other Maryland lawmakers, Hogan also directed the Maryland Department of Health to begin releasing a racial breakdown of coronavirus tests, hospitalizations and mortality rates.

But he cautioned the data would likely be incomplete, because an overwhelming majority of tests are being conducted by doctors and hospitals and then processed by labs out of state that aren’t required to keep track of race.

The governor said the Trump administration agreed to the joint request from Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia to make the Baltimore-Washington corridor a priority area in the federal government’s response to the pandemic.

While the whole state is considered a priority, 12 jurisdictions in Maryland–Baltimore City, and Baltimore, Carroll, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Montgomery, Howard, Frederick, Harford, Queen Anne’s Calvert and Charles counties–are designated hot spots that will receive focused federal resources, Hogan said.

The corridor is home to 5 million people, a large number of whom are federal workers, and every government agency. Maryland, in particular, is home to the National Institutes of Health, FDA and health agencies at Fort Detrick that are responding to coronavirus, as well as critical national security agencies such as the NSA and U.S. Cyber Command, Hogan said.

While the governor did thank Marylanders for staying home and adhering to social distancing and local companies for closing, Hogan also issued an executive order allowing local health departments to shut down any business that is not following health guidelines.

Local police departments are instructed to help enforce the order. As with the rule requiring residents to only make essential trips outdoors, business owners who violate the order announced today can receive a maximum of one year in prison, a $5,000 fine or both.

Hogan said the state is continuing to ramp up its capacity to respond to the virus as a projected surge in cases looms. The field hospital in the convention center will allow people to continue treatment for COVID-19 while freeing up hospital resources for those who need acute care.

The state also issued emergency licenses to dozens of assisted living programs, residential sites for people with developmental disabilities and laboratories to increase medical capacity in Maryland.

As of Tuesday morning, 4,371 Marylanders have tested positive for COVID-19 and 103 residents have died from the virus.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the peak in cases could come “sometime soon” thanks to the early social distancing measures the state put in place.

One model projects it will be 10 days from now, while others suggest it may be later, said Inglesby, who also serves on Hogan’s Coronavirus Response Team.

He noted there are some positive indications–while hedging it’s too early to draw conclusions–that social distancing is working in other countries around the world and in some states in the U.S. that were hit particularly hard, such as New York, California and Washington.

Once the number of cases declines to a manageable amount, the conversation on loosening restrictions can begin, he said. But there has to be more tests so people with even mild symptoms can be tested and enough equipment and personnel for another possible surge.

There’s no clear timeline for when that might be.

“Look, we’re anxious to get everybody back to their normal lives as quickly as we can,” Hogan said. “But the last thing we want to do is bring them back too fast, where we just ramp this thing back up and have the virus spread.”

This story has been updated.

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Brandon Weigel

Brandon Weigel is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. A graduate of the University of Maryland, he has been published in The Washington Post, The Sun, Baltimore Magazine, Urbanite, The Baltimore...