Gov. Larry Hogan will be introducing emergency legislation that will allow him to transfer resources from the state’s rainy day fund and put that money toward Maryland’s response to the coronavirus.
Hogan said Wednesday that he will also submit a $10 million emergency appropriation request as part of a supplemental budget later this week based on the Maryland Department of Health’s contingency planning.
“Given the rapidly evolving nature of this threat to public health, it is critical that we have the flexibility to immediately access these resources,” Hogan said in a prepared statement. “I want to continue to assure Marylanders that our state is taking every precaution when it comes to the coronavirus.”
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency is also raising its activation level from “Normal” to “Enhanced” to mobilize additional resources across state government, Hogan announced.
Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young announced that as of 5 p.m. on Wednesday, the City of Baltimore’s Emergency Operations Center Activation Level would be raised to Level III: Watch Level in support of coronavirus activities.
“While we have not experienced any confirmed cases of the Coronavirus in Maryland, we must remain vigilant and prepared,” Young said in a prepared statement. “My administration has been in close contact with health officials from the state and federal government.”
There have been no lab-confirmed cases of the coronavirus disease 2019, or COVID-19, in Maryland, but Baltimore City and Maryland state officials are urging people to take preventative actions to minimize the spread of the disease.
“In Baltimore, we are taking the 2019 novel coronavirus outbreak very seriously,” Baltimore City Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa said in a press conference Wednesday. “The Baltimore City Health Department has been monitoring for the virus and preparing for possible cases in Baltimore since early January.”
Dzirasa strongly urged people to take preventative actions to reduce their risk of contracting or spreading the disease. Those actions include staying home from work, school or traveling if you are ill; washing your hands often with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds; using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol if you do not have access to soap and water; covering your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing and then discarding that tissue; and cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.
Maryland Secretary of Health Robert R. Neall added that people should avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
At this time, Dzirasa said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) does not recommend people who are healthy wear facemasks to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including coronavirus.
The first cases of the coronavirus were identified in December in Wuhan City in the Hubei province of China.
As of about 3 p.m. Wednesday, the CDC had reported 129 lab-confirmed cases in the United States, including nine reported deaths in the U.S. due to the disease.
All nine U.S. deaths occurred in Washington state, with seven of the nine deceased people having lived at the Life Care Center of Kirkland nursing home in a suburb outside of Seattle, Washington.
The first lab-confirmed case in the U.S. was announced on Jan. 21 in a Washington state man who developed symptoms of the disease after returning from a trip to the region around Wuhan.
Neall said there have been no lab-confirmed cases in Baltimore City or the rest of Maryland. There has been a total of 21 people in Maryland who were referred for testing, including 10 whose tests came back negative and 11 that are still awaiting test results, which Neall said should be available today or tomorrow.
The CDC updated its criteria for evaluating a person under for investigation for a potential COVID-19 case on Feb. 27.
With that expanded criteria, Dzirasa said people can expect to see an increase in the number of people being tested for the coronavirus.
Dzirasa said the current risk of the coronavirus to the general American public is low, but older adults and people with compromised immune systems are generally more susceptible to severe diseases.
Symptoms of coronavirus include cough, fever and shortness of breath–in some instances it can lead to pneumonia, Dzirasa said.
Those symptoms can also be consistent with influenza, and Dzirasa said it is important that people get a flu shot from their local healthcare provider if they have not done so already.
If someone is experiencing the symptoms of coronavirus, Dzirasa said they should call ahead to your local healthcare provider to review their symptoms, indicate recent travel, and determine if further steps are necessary. Individuals exhibiting those symptoms should not show up to healthcare provider without calling ahead, she said.
There is no vaccine for the coronavirus at this time, Dzirasa said.
“Experts are at work developing a vaccine, but it has to be tested to ensure safety and efficacy before widespread distribution,” she said. “Pending vaccine availability, the CDC suggests supportive care including rest, hydration, pain control and supplemental oxygen as needed to manage and relieve symptoms of [coronavirus].”
Over the past two months, the city health department has been working with the CDC, Maryland Department of Health, Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management, Baltimore City Fire Department, city hospitals, school systems, and colleges and universities to coordinate efforts around the coronavirus, Dzirasa said.
Hogan announced Tuesday the CDC gave the Maryland Public Health Laboratory clearance to start testing for the coronavirus, helping speed up the process in the state.
“That means we don’t have to send cases flying to Atlanta and that’s probably a three-day time difference in getting them back,” Neall said, adding that the state can get results to tests within about 24 hours by using its own lab.
Asked whether Baltimore would be canceling any conventions or other events due to the coronavirus, Young said, “We’re not canceling anything.”
For national and global information about the virus, visit cdc.gov.