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Precautions in place at BWMC, AAMC as hospitals, libraries and others prepare for coronavirus

Anne Arundel Executive Steuart Pittman held a press conference to discuss COVID-19 Coronavirus

Baltimore Washington Medical Center and Anne Arundel Medical Center have adopted strict visitor policies as institutions across the county prepare for the coronavirus.

The first confirmed case of the virus hit Anne Arundel County on Wednesday, marking the 10th case linked Maryland as the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic.

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Neel Vibhakar, senior vice president and chief medical officer at BWMC, said the hospital started preparing to treat coronavirus patients since they heard of cases in China and are ready to treat confirmed cases of coronavirus and any patients suspected of being exposed to the virus. The policy is part of a wider plan announce by The University of Maryland Medical System, which includes BWMC.

Still, he warns people to minimize exposure, especially if they’re sick

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“This is not a time to try and be brave and go into work because you’ll potentially expose others,” Vibhaker said.

Anne Arundel Medical Center and Doctors Community Hospital are under visitor restrictions the hospital uses for bad flu season, recommending people under age 12 and those experiencing cold or flu-like symptoms not visit.

Siblings will be allowed to visit patients, hospital spokeswoman Loren Farquhar said, but parents must be sure siblings are not ill. Patients and visitors coming to any Luminis Health facility with respiratory symptoms must request a mask upon arrival, Farquhar said.

To minimize exposure to employees, the following rules will be in place at BWMC and other university hospitals:

  • All visitors must check-in at the front desk.
  • No one under 18 years old, except the parent of a hospitalized patient, is permitted to visit the hospital, including all waiting areas and common spaces.
  • One one adult visitor is allowed per patient for all areas of the hospital and visitors who have traveled internationally may not visit for 14 days after arrival into the United States.
  • Visitors may be screened for flu-like symptoms and are not permitted to visit the hospital if symptoms are present.

Exceptions to these rules can be made with approval by the Physician Administrative Officer for cases like end-of-life care, caregivers of pediatric patients, and labor and delivery unit visitors who are non-symptomatic.

As of Wednesday afternoon, there were 10 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland. The case in Anne Arundel County is a woman from Minnesota, and her illness is being counted as a case there even though she is being treated in Maryland. The official count remains nine.

The disease has spread across the globe. As of that same time, there are 647 confirmed cases in the U.S. with 25 deaths, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.

Under the recommendation of Infection Prevention experts, the medical system is also suspending all animal therapy indefinitely, with the exception of service animals, according to its announcement. Community education and outreach classes and events are being evaluated.

Anyone who arrives at BWMC with flu-like symptoms and respiratory distress is evaluated for the virus, though Vibhaker could not say how many BWMC patients are being watched for coronavirus.

Vibhaker recommends people consider what kind of gatherings and events they’re going to and who they could be exposed to.

“Someone who is young and healthy may say, ‘It’s not a big deal, I won’t be affected by it,’" Vibhaker said. "But you may come into contact with someone who is older and could be immunocompromised.”

Other precautions

As coronavirus continues to spread, these other precautions are being taken in Annapolis and Anne Arundel County:

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Annapolis Transit: In addition to the nightly cleanings Annapolis Transit bus drivers conduct — wiping down the inside of each bus with a bleach solution and industrial cleaner — city spokeswoman Mitchelle Stephenson said bus drivers are being more thorough and additional weekly cleanings with extra staff will happen this week.

Anne Arundel County Public Libraries: There are no changes to programs and services, but spokeswoman Christine Feldmann said extra cleaning will be done on high-traffic library spaces and children’s toys. Touchless hand sanitizer dispensers are soon to be installed in all 16 locations. Staff and customers who are sick are encouraged not to come in.

Shelters: Chrysalis House, an addictions treatment facility in Crownsville, said women are encouraged to go to Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous meetings after 30 days of treatment, but outside meetings have been limited until further notice. Medical staff started getting a COVID-19 action plan together about two weeks ago.

At Arundel House of Hope in Glen Burnie, which coordinates homeless relief in parts of the county, new residents or people experiencing symptoms for active respiratory illness are being screened. Those who are ill are being referred for medical attention. Winter Relief sites, the rotating shelter hosted by houses of worship, are now also screening volunteers.

“We are still experiencing a season in our shelter with far fewer illnesses than we have had in the past!” Pam Biddlecomb, director of winter relief and the shelter’s day center, wrote in an email.

Behind bars: People in state prisons, including Jessup Correctional Institution, are being closely monitored for any signs and symptoms of flu-like illness, according to the Department of Public Safety & Correctional Services.

Department spokesman Mark Vernarelli said all people in prison have access to soap and water and have been told to wash their hands for 20 seconds. Hand sanitizer is not allowed in state prisons.

The superintendent of Jennifer Road Detention Center in Annapolis and Ordnance Road Correctional Center in Glen Burnie did not respond for comment about coronavirus concerns.

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