The state can now transfer up to $50 million from its rainy day fund to put toward an emergency response to the coronavirus after Gov. Larry Hogan, Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson signed emergency legislation into law permitting the transfer Monday afternoon.
Hogan said in a press conference that the legislation, which was passed unanimously, is indicative of government officials’ unified response to COVID-19.
“It shows that government at the federal, state and local levels are working together to respond to this threat in a cooperative and coordinated manner,” he said. “We are continuing to hope for the best while we’re also actively preparing for the worst.”
Ferguson said state elected officials “stand here as one body of government, united to show the confidence that we have in the administration’s proactive approach to this virus.”
“In times where it’s quite anxious and difficult and fearful, it’s very easy to drop into a tribal mentality, a fear of the ‘other,’” he said. “This is a time like none other in Maryland, a place with some of the best global resources on these issues, that we have to be with one another, united, standing firm, and acting in a smart fashion to make sure that every member of our community feels comfortable, protected and that we are doing things that are reasonable to protect Maryland’s future.”
Both chambers of the Maryland General Assembly also announced Monday afternoon the introduction of emergency legislation to reduce barriers to coronavirus screening tests by restricting and cuttings costs, adding access to telehealth, improving access to the COVID-19 vaccine whenever it becomes available, ensuring people under quarantine and isolation cannot lose their jobs, and prohibiting price gauging.
“We want to ensure that the Governor and Department of Health have all the tools in the toolbox to ensure the safety of Maryland residents,” Jones said in a statement. “This is a proactive step to enable the State to prevent COVID-19 from getting a larger foothold in the State.”
Hogan also announced at the press conference that he will be convening a coronavirus response team including experts in public health and emergency management. That team will meet tomorrow, he said.
Hogan said he is also meeting with representatives of the state’s elder-care community “to make sure that we are taking every precaution possible to protect Maryland’s seniors and retirees.”
Children and young adults are less vulnerable to the coronavirus than they are to the typical flu, Hogan said.
However, people over the age of 60 and people with underlying health conditions are more vulnerable and at a significantly higher risk of contracting the disease with morbidity and mortality rates that are three to five times higher than most flu seasons, he said.
“That is why we are advising people over 60 to stay home as much as possible, to avoid large crowds and gatherings, and we are advising nursing homes and retirement communities to closely monitor residents and employees for fever or respiratory symptoms,” Hogan said.
Today, the Maryland Department of Budget and Management is moving to Level 2 of its pandemic policy, Hogan said. He said the state is “issuing guidance to cancel all out of state travel for all state employees and advising all agencies to prepare for a period of mandatory tele-work to limit the spread of the virus in our state.”
There are five positive cases in Maryland as of Monday afternoon.
The two most recently confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland, which Hogan first announced Sunday, include a Harford County woman in her 80s who contracted the virus while traveling to Turkey, and a Montgomery County man in his 60s who contracted the virus while traveling to Thailand and Egypt.
Hogan said Monday that the Harford County woman is currently being hospitalized in Maryland. The Montgomery County man was briefly hospitalized and is now quarantined.
After receiving test results for the two new cases, the Maryland Department of Health immediately contacted health officials in both counties as well as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and Harford County Executive Barry Glassman.
All five Marylanders who have tested positive for COVID-19 so far contracted the virus while traveling in a foreign country, Hogan said. He added that the Harford County woman is believed to be the first coronavirus case anywhere in the world to be associated with travel to Turkey.
The first three Maryland residents infected with coronavirus cases, all in Montgomery County, were people who had been on an Egyptian cruise on the Nile River.
That same cruise ship is connected to 12 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Houston area, Hogan said.
He added that six additional Marylanders traveled on the same Egyptian cruise ship but on different dates, traveling between Feb. 19 and March 4.
The Maryland Department of Health has been in contact with all six individuals, two of whom are experiencing symptoms of the coronavirus. All six are in self quarantine “out of an abundance of caution” and are going to be tested for COVID-19, Hogan said.
United States Department of Health and Human Services notified Maryland government officials there were 12 Marylanders aboard the Grand Princess ship that was preparing to dock off the coast of California on Monday, Hogan said. Some passengers have exhibited symptoms of the coronavirus, Hogan said.
All 12 Marylanders and many of the other U.S. citizens aboard that ship are being transported to military bases in Texas and Georgia for examination and to be quarantined, Hogan said.
He added that he has been told the 12 Marylanders from that ship are not exhibiting symptoms.
More than 111,000 people in more than 100 countries have been infected by the coronavirus, and nearly 3,900 people worldwide have died from the disease. In the U.S., there have been about 600 cases, including 22 deaths, across 35 states and Washington, D.C., Hogan said.
Earlier in the day Hogan took part in an hour-and-a-half meeting with Vice President Mike Pence–whom President Donald Trump tapped to lead a special coronavirus task force–and federal health officials, as well as the governors from 48 states who called in to the meeting.
The vice president and health officials stressed that as testing becomes more readily available, people can expect the number of confirmed cases to rise, Hogan said.
He added the country will begin shifting from containment to mitigation in response to COVID-19.
Hogan said that the situation around COVID-19 is escalating rapidly with information changing not only on a daily basis, but on an hourly and almost minute-to-minute basis.
“Here in Maryland, we are committed to being transparent, to providing the facts, to try to keep our Maryland citizens fully informed,” he said. “We’re taking actions based on our detailed planning and making decisions based on the facts on the ground.”
People can visit coronavirus.gov or health.maryland.gov/coronavirus for more information about COVID-19 and the federal, state and local response to the virus. People can also call 211 for any questions and concerns.