Effective 7 a.m. Saturday, Marylanders will have to wear masks or face coverings while inside retail stores or while riding public transportation, Gov. Larry Hogan announced today.
Retail workers will also be required to wear masks or face coverings, and retail establishments, such as grocery stores, pharmacies and convenience stores, will need to implement “appropriate social distancing measures,” Hogan said.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young also issued an executive order on Wednesday advising Baltimore residents to wear masks or other face coverings when out in public, visiting essential businesses or interacting with delivery personnel from essential businesses. The mayor’s order, which took effect immediately, also instructs businesses to institute their own policies for employees regarding the use of face coverings in the workplace.
Young said Tuesday that he and other city officials had been considering requiring Baltimoreans to wear face coverings while in public, but he doubted if such a policy could be enforced.
Other jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Montgomery and Charles counties, have already required residents to wear face coverings in public such as at grocery stores and on buses.
Hogan said that actions the state took early on to slow the spread of coronavirus have lessened the impact of COVID-19 in Maryland, even as the state earlier today announced the highest increase of deaths during the pandemic.
“While our case numbers are still growing each day and sadly the number of deaths are continuing to increase, both are at much lower rates than they would have been without those actions,” he said.
He added that Maryland’s hospitalization rates are starting to show signs of stabilizing; the state has ramped up its surge capacity, testing capability and personal protective equipment supplies; and tracing teams are more easily able to investigate with whom COVID-19 patients came into contact as more people are staying home.
As such, Hogan said the state is positioned to shift from its current phase of containment and mitigation to planning for a “gradual rollout of our recovery phase.”
Hogan cautioned that Maryland is not yet ready to ease restrictions currently in place to slow the spread of coronavirus. But he said state officials are able to begin planning for when it is possible to relax those restrictions in a “safe and smart way,” and he expects to have more details about that plan some time next week.
“[T]he worst possible thing we could do is to take actions too quickly and then have that spike so we look like New York and we have thousands of people die and hundreds of thousands people sick and we overload our hospital system,” he said. “Because then it’s very hard to get that genie back in the bottle.”
Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, echoed Hogan, saying the state has seen progress in slowing the spread of coronavirus, but people must continue abiding by the governor’s orders and guidance from public health experts to maintain that momentum.
“We’re in this for a very long time,” she said. “We will prevail. We will get past this virus. But right now is not a moment to let up.”
The state’s recovery plan will require the state to further increase its testing capability, surge capacity and personal protective equipment supplies, and to build a more “robust” contact tracing operation, Hogan said.
So far, Maryland has expanded its testing capacity by more than 5,000 percent over the past month, and the state is on track to triple its current capacity to be able to conduct more than 10,000 tests per day, Hogan said.
Hogan said the state recently received 40,000 more tests, including 30,000 tests that will use machines from Abbott Laboratories. The state also entered into a separate agreement with Abbott Laboratories to obtain a “substantial number” of antibody tests that will be valuable during Maryland’s recovery phase.
Maryland completed work on a 250-bed field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center last week, and is completing construction on surge response tent at Adventist Fort Washington Hospital in Prince George’s County, Hogan said.
The state has also begun converting the Hagerstown Correctional Facility and the former Washington Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park into field hospitals, and is setting up 60 additional response tents in Frederick, Jessup, Hagerstown, Annapolis, Baltimore, Germantown and Randallstown, he said.
Hogan said the state has received 1 million face shields and 1,000 ICU beds, and over the next week officials are expecting deliveries of 4.5 million N95 face masks, 290 oxygen concentrators and 252 ICU ventilators.
Ellington Churchill Jr., secretary of general services, said the state has received large orders of face shields, surgical masks, surgical gloves, hand sanitizer, bleach and ICU beds over the past week.
Maryland currently has approximately 250 contact tracing investigators, and the state plans to quadruple that force to at least 1,000 investigators by using state employees and outside contractors and through other methods, Hogan said.
Last week, Hogan announced the state government was creating “strike teams” that comprised local and state health officials, members of the Maryland National Guard and health care providers who can test and treat seniors at nursing homes and other elder care facilities.
Since then, strike teams have responded to outbreaks and “threatening situations” at 16 nursing homes and assisted living facilities and 15 group homes for children with vulnerable health conditions, Hogan said.
Phillips said more than 800 Marylanders have registered as having recovered from COVID-19 on the state’s COVIDConnect website.
Those individuals receive information about how to participate in research, clinical trials and support groups, and can share their stories about their COVID-19 recovery, Phillips said.
President Donald Trump on Tuesday said he had “absolute authority” to decide when to loosen social distancing restrictions, prompting criticism from some of the nation’s governors before Trump walked back the comment later that day.
Hogan said states may lean on the federal government for guidance and information, but ultimately the decision is up to governors on how to approach the coronavirus in their respective states.
“I believe we can be partners in this … There are certain roles that only the federal government can play and should play,” he said. “But I think the governors are going to make their own decisions within those recommended guidelines.”
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