As Maryland hospitals grapple with record numbers of COVID-19 patients, Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday declared a 30-day state of emergency and issued other executive orders to expand the state’s healthcare workforce and facilities capacity.
Although Hogan called vaccinations and face masks important tools for mitigating the COVID-19 crisis, he avoided instating any mandates.
“It sometimes has an opposite effect,” Hogan said, dismissing the idea of a mask mandate. “I’m not sure that people that are refusing to wear a mask are going to wear one anyway. We don’t have the ability to enforce it. We’re just strongly encouraging people to wear the damn mask, but we don’t need a mandate to force businesses to do so.”
Hogan also expressed his support for maintaining in-person learning.
“I think kids need to be in school,” he said. “I think we’ve all seen the incredible damage that has been caused by in some cases people doing remote learning for over a year.”
In Baltimore City, school officials and some state lawmakers defended the school system’s plan to resume in-person learning.
But some teachers, parents and elected officials criticized the decision as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise. Parent and teacher groups proposed requiring staff and students to test negative for COVID-19 before returning to school buildings, but school officials rejected the idea.
The governor implemented his new actions as Maryland on Tuesday recorded a total of 3,057 coronavirus-related hospitalizations, 56% higher than last year’s peak in January 2021.
A New York Times map on Tuesday showed Baltimore City is experiencing an average of 434 daily cases per 100,000 people over the past week, ranking as the eighth-highest county average in the nation. Other Maryland counties are also among the top U.S. case averages.
Ted Delbridge, executive director at the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems (MIEMSS) said more than 600 people were waiting to be admitted to a hospital emergency department Monday afternoon.
Nine Maryland hospitals are currently operating under crisis standards of care, and three others are poised to do so, Delbridge said.
MIEMSS’s Critical Care Coordination Center, which matches critical care patients with available resources, experienced its busiest month in December 2021 since the center’s inception in 2020, Delbridge said.
Hogan announced plans to mobilize 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to establish 20 new COVID-19 testing sites, provide patient transport, and assist state and local health officials with other responses to COVID-19.
Delbridge urged Marylanders not to go to an emergency room to get tested. Instead, they should search for a testing site through covidlink.maryland.gov.
Hogan’s executive orders also authorize Maryland Secretary of Health Dennis Schrader to regulate hospital personnel, bed space and supplies, including directing and expediting the transfer of patients between facilities.
The Maryland Department of Health will be able to establish alternate care facilities to assist hospitals and nursing homes; regulate elective medical procedures; and issue directives to nursing homes and other congregate care facilities for controlling and monitoring COVID-19.
The governor is also allowing healthcare professionals with medical licenses from out-of-state or that are inactive, as well as graduate nurses, to work at any healthcare facility in Maryland.
The Centers for Disease Control on Tuesday recommended that people who got the Pfizer vaccine can get a Pfizer booster shot 5 months after their last dose instead of 6 months. Hogan said he plans to urge federal officials to shorten that period further for vulnerable people, such as residents of nursing homes and congregate care facilities.
Hogan also called on the Biden administration to increase the distribution of monoclonal antibodies and COVID-19 antiviral pills.
The Maryland National Guard members being deployed are required to be vaccinated, said Maj. Gen. Tim Gowan, adjutant general for the Maryland National Guard.
Gowan said the Maryland National Guard is mobilizing members who are not already fighting COVID-19 in civilian jobs.
“We are a community-based force made up of dedicated military professionals, ready to answer the call when we are needed,” he said. “This is what we do. This is why we serve.”