All Maryland public schools will remain closed for at least the next four weeks as the state attempts to limit the spread of COVID-19, State Schools Superintendent Karen Salmon announced Wednesday during a press conference with Gov. Larry Hogan.
“We do not make this decision lightly. However, with the challenges facing our state and our country, we have a responsibility to ensure the health and safety of our school communities and the communities at large,” Salmon said.
Salmon said state school personnel are working with local school systems to “resume the continuity of learning” next week. Schools will be closed until at least April 24.
Salmon had previously closed schools for two weeks, through the end of this week.
She said Wednesday that extending the closure will allow school leaders to evaluate how to proceed, including potentially extending the school year.
As schools plan to continue education at home next week, Salmon said school leaders will be developing baseline standards for all school systems to follow. Then individual school districts can add on to that if they have the technology or other capabilities for more remote learning.
“We want to make sure every student has the basics going forward these next four weeks, and we also are going to have to come up with some very creative ways to make sure we’re educating our students with disabilities,” she said.
Last week, the Maryland State Department of Education sent out about 35 pages of websites where parents could access educational resources for their children, Salmon said.
“We’re really trying to push out resources to parents in the interim,” she said.
On Wednesday morning, Maryland reported an additional 74 confirmed cases of the coronavirus, bringing the statewide total to at least 423. Those 74 cases represent the largest one-day jump in cases in Maryland since the state saw its first cases nearly three weeks ago.
But Hogan said the increase in the number of cases being confirmed is due, in part, to the state conducting more tests.
“The higher numbers do not necessarily mean that things are getting worse. It just means we’re testing more people,” he said.
Hogan said the state is making “rapid progress” in increasing its healthcare capacity.
Hospitals and healthcare facilities have made 2,400 beds available “weeks ahead of the schedule that we had been shooting for and it’s good news,” Hogan said.
Hogan said the state government and its partners are still waiting to get more test kits and other supplies.
“It’s much better than what it was last week and nowhere near what it needs to be,” he said.
The state put in a request through FEMA for 138,000 test kits, which have not been received, Hogan said.
Meanwhile, hospitals and private labs are also purchasing supplies themselves, Hogan said.
“We’re doing an assessment and an inventory of exactly what everyone has and what they need, and we’re trying to help them all get more of everything. So it’s not an exact number and it’s changing almost every day and hourly what’s coming in,” he said.
In addition to increasing the number of beds available for patients who test positive for COVID-19, the state is also looking to expand the number of healthcare workers and other professionals who are able to assist with the state’s response, Hogan said.
Hogan issued an order to fast-track the licensing process for out-of-state medical providers and re-instate expired licenses for in-state medical providers.
The governor also issued an order to provide more authority to credential emergency medical technicians and paramedics to be able to work in clinics and field hospitals treating COVID-19 patients.
Hogan said he is directing the Maryland Department of Health to institute a program to allow medical and nursing students to be able to assist with the state’s efforts. Students can sign up at mdresponds.health.maryland.gov.
Hogan activated the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps, which comprises 5,000 medical, healthcare and other professionals who are able to volunteer during disasters or emergency situations.
Last week, 700 corps members stepped up to participate in the state’s response efforts, and 2,300 more people have signed up to help since Friday, Hogan said.
Maryland has received $4 million of federal funding to help communities provide at-home meals to older adults, Hogan said.
He added that older Marylanders can call 1-866-50CHECK to sign up to receive a daily check-in call to see if they are in need of any assistance.
Hogan said there has been “tremendous cooperation” and compliance with guidance for people to stay home and avoid gatherings of more than 10 people.
He said there have only been 14 incidents across the state in which law enforcement had to disperse large gatherings, and the individuals involved in those incidents “all willingly and immediately cooperated.”
Hogan said the Maryland General Assembly has not yet sent him the bills that the state legislature passed during this year’s legislative session, which ended nearly three weeks early due to concerns over the coronavirus.
But even once he does receive the bills, Hogan said it will take awhile to examine them.
“Quite frankly, I have no time to review 680 bills. We’re trying to keep people alive,” he said.