Governor Larry Hogan updated the citizens of Maryland of the latest news on the coronavirus in cases associated with the state.
The three people who tested positive for the novel coronavirus this week were on an Egyptian cruise on the Nile River, said Gov. Larry Hogan, who shared more details during a Friday evening news conference about the Montgomery County residents, the first confirmed cases in Maryland.
The three — a couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s — are currently isolated in their homes and their symptoms are abating.
Five of their family members have been advised to be tested and officials continue to trace their contacts with others to determine if more people should also be tested, said Fran Phillips, deputy state health secretary for public health during the news conference.
One of the patients traveled to suburban Philadelphia and met with students and others there, which resulted in Pennsylvania health officials deciding to temporarily close five Bucks County schools.
Another of the patients attended a Feb. 28 event at The Village at Rockville, a retirement community. Health officials say 70 to 100 residents, visitors and staff at the event may be at risk for COVID-19. They are urging them to monitor for symptoms such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing until March 13. They should also take their temperature twice a day and notify their health care provider if it’s greater than 100.4 or they have other symptoms. Anyone who attended the Feb. 28 event is encouraged to contact their physician or the Maryland Emergency Management Agency call center at 410-517-3720.
“We’re obviously concerned, we’re not getting any sleep and the information is coming at us pretty fast and furious,” Hogan said during the conference.
Hogan announced the three positive tests Thursday evening and then declared a state of emergency, allowing Maryland to mobilize its emergency operations center and ramp up its coordination with local and federal agencies.
In addition to the three confirmed cases in the state, eight tests are still pending among the 44 tests conducted. One person under investigation is at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center in Towson, the hospital confirmed Friday. It’s unknown where the others are located or if they are hospitalized or isolated at home as they await results.
Specimens collected by hospitals are now sent to the state lab in East Baltimore, which has 1,000 testing kits on hand to test more residents, Phillips said.
The respiratory disease has sickened more than 100,000 across the globe and killed more than 3,300.
Hogan said the Maryland cases are related to six others confirmed in Texas. News reports from Houston say six people there contracted the coronavirus after going on a Nile River cruise in Egypt.
Dr. Travis Gayles, the chief health officer for Montgomery County, said the three people returned to Maryland on Feb. 20 and were tested this week for COVID-19 after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the criteria for testing. The CDC initially restricted testing to people with symptoms who had traveled or come in direct contact with someone infected. The guidance has now been expanded but test kits remain limited.
“The three cases involved here are doing well clinically and for the most part their symptoms have abated,” Gayles said.
Officials did not release their names or where in Montgomery County the three live or initially where they contracted the coronavirus, out of concern for their privacy. Officials also have not identified the hospitals where the patients were treated and where else they traveled or airports they used, a lack of information that drew criticism on social media Friday.
Across the country, health officials have not named any of the individuals who have been confirmed to have COVID-19 because that information would violate federal privacy laws. However, other states and cities have provided much more precise details about their travels, such as New York state and Chicago.
Meanwhile, state lawmakers continue to move funding for preparedness forward, though officials have not detailed where all the money will be spent.
The Senate gave final approval to Hogan’s bill that would allow him to use up to $50 million from the state’s rainy day fund for coronavirus response. The House of Delegates followed suit Friday night, unanimously fast-tracking the bill and sending it to the governor’s desk for him to sign into law.
Maryland Sen. Bill Ferguson urged lawmakers to practice good hygiene and reminded them that additional hand sanitizer stations have been installed throughout the State House complex in Annapolis. Ferguson also reminded senators to get and share information from trusted sources, such as the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health.
Ferguson said it was not likely that the coronavirus would affect the General Assembly, which is scheduled to be in session through early April.
“This body and this chamber has not recessed early or adjourned early since the Civil War and so there is no reason whatsoever to think this year would be any different," said Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat.
Other events have been canceled in the region and nationally, as more people are expected to test positive for the virus because more people are being tested. Johns Hopkins University closed a basketball tournament it was hosting to spectators to prevent spread of the virus, for example, and a women’s expo planned at an Inner Harbor hotel this weekend was canceled.
More than 300 Americans are infected and 14 have died. The latest people to test positive are 21 who are aboard the Grand Princess cruise ship that is being held off the coast of California, said Vice President Mike Pence, who’s in charge of the federal response, during a Friday news conference.
The numbers are expected to keep climbing. Pence said private labs should be able to conduct tests next week, in addition to every state lab.
Earlier Friday, lawmakers on Capitol Hill heard from experts from Johns Hopkins University about the continuing shortage of tests, as well as other issues with preparedness.
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The United States currently does not have enough tests for all citizens who have symptoms of the coronavirus, and a significant rise in cases could put “substantial pressure” on hospital intensive-care units across the country, the Hopkins experts said.
Quest Diagnostics and other private clinical laboratories are working to develop their own tests, and while more widespread testing likely will confirm more cases, it’s also likely to lower the percentage of fatal cases, said Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
“We need to continue to substantially expand diagnostic testing,” Inglesby said. “The goal is to get to a point where any patient who has symptoms of the coronavirus can be tested. … We don’t have the bandwidth to do that now.”
A vaccine for COVID-19 could be a year to 18 months away “if all goes well,” he said.
“We should be developing plans for mass manufacture of the vaccine when it is developed,” Inglesby said.