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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan wants to tap millions of dollars in emergency funds to prepare for coronavirus

Former Baltimore City Health Commissioner Leana Wen answer questions about the coronavirus.

Gov. Larry Hogan said Wednesday that he plans to seek immediate access to millions of dollars in the state’s rainy day fund to fight the novel coronavirus in addition to $10 million in extra funding in the state budget.

There are no confirmed cases in the state, though 21 people have been tested in Maryland for the virus that has infected 159 people across the country and tens of thousands of people in countries across the globe. Ten people in Maryland already have tested negative, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

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The funding will allow the state to be ready if there are cases of COVID-19, which causes respiratory symptoms such as coughing and trouble breathing. Most cases are mild, but scientists believe the virus leads to hospitalization for about 16% of cases and death in less than 1%. Public health officials across the country say more infections are likely, and other states also have been taking steps to bolster funding to prepare, as has the federal government.

Emergency legislation was introduced in the Maryland Senate shortly after Hogan said during the regular meeting of the state’s Board of Public Works in Annapolis that he wanted authority to transfer $50 million from the state’s rainy day fund, formally called the Revenue Stabilization Account. In a sign of the urgency, rules were suspended to send the bill directly to committee.

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“Here in Maryland there is not yet any public health emergency,” Hogan said at the board meeting. “As of this morning, 21 individuals in Maryland have been tested: 10 results have been negative; 11 still remain pending. There are no positive cases. While we continue to hope for the best, we are also actively planning for the worst.”

The Maryland Emergency Management Agency also raised its activation level to “enhanced.” That is one step above normal operations on a four-step scale and means an event requires additional monitoring or resources from across state government.

Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young took similar action, raising its emergency operations level to “watch level” and said city leaders would coordinate with local health officials, who are leading the city’s preparedness efforts, as well as the state’s emergency management office.

“While we have not experienced any confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Maryland, we must remain vigilant and prepared,” Young said in a statement.

Hogan said, “Our state is taking every precaution when it comes to the coronavirus."

Hogan hasn’t outlined specific uses for the emergency funds. He said generally that it is for costs associated with the virus response and gives the state “flexibility to immediately access resources.” He said the funding he plans to seek in the state budget will be based on the state health department’s contingency planning, though details also have not been released.

Hogan also said this week that he expects the administration of President Donald Trump to request $3 billion in extra funds for coronavirus response. Hogan expected the state would be able to seek reimbursement for costs associated with monitoring and testing.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Wednesday that it plans to provide Maryland with $500,000 in initial funding to support the state’s virus response. The funds were for such activities as monitoring travelers, data management, lab equipment and supplies, staffing, infection control and testing.

“CDC is committed to working with state, local, tribal and territorial public health departments to mitigate community spread of novel coronavirus in this nation,” CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield said in a statement. “Our partners are on the front lines of this response and we support their efforts to increase needed public health capacity to confront the challenges this virus presents.”

The state health department has said it is not charging for the testing for COVID-19, but people may be charged for a blood test by their health provider. The state received federal authority Tuesday to do its own testing, rather than send samples to the CDC in Atlanta, and already has begun running the tests. This is expected to shorten the time for test results to a day from two to three days — time patients had to stay secluded in their homes.

Fran Phillips, Maryland’s deputy secretary for public health services, briefed a group of state lawmakers in Annapolis on Wednesday afternoon and said she visited the state lab earlier in the day. She said the staff is “prepared to move into a higher volume of testing” if needed, including working overtime as necessary. The East Baltimore lab can handle about 50 to 60 tests in a regular workday.

Phillips said officials are working with private labs in the hope that they, too, could begin handle tests.

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“It’s a matter of time,” she said, before there’s a confirmed case in this state.

“It’s difficult to know what’s going to come,” she said. “Frankly, we don’t know if this will be a full-blown pandemic or if this will be a relatively minor event.”

Even if the virus quiets down, it still might come back again months later, Phillips added.

Peter Franchot, the state comptroller, said there were a lot of economic issues for the state stemming from a potential outbreak here. Already there have been effects, even without a case. He cited a slowdown of cargo imports at the state-owned Port of Baltimore and the potential for a slowdown in travel through the state’s BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport.

Money invested by the state would be affected by large financial market movements — most market indexes already are down about 8% — and a dip in consumer confidence that could cost the state.

“There are economic and fiscal impacts that coronavirus has already caused for our state and will continue if the outbreak worsens,” Franchot said before announcing he plans to convene a forum at the University of Baltimore with “experts and stakeholders” on March 24 to discuss the current and potential impacts.

So far, there are few signs that major events in the state are being canceled or postponed, as they have been in some U.S. cities.

Young said Wednesday during a news conference that there are not immediate plans to do so in Baltimore.

“We’re not canceling anything,” he said.

Baltimore Sun reporter Lillian Reed contributed to this article.

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