To keep Marylanders up-to-date with the week’s most pressing takeaways, here are five key points from The Baltimore Sun’s coronavirus coverage.
Black Marylanders infected with and dying of COVID-19 outpace other racial groups
Maryland officials released for the first time Thursday a breakdown of the state’s COVID-19 cases by race, though limited to black, white, Asian, not available and “other” groups. The data show black residents make up a majority of cases and related fatalities, a disparity playing out across the country.
Maryland Del. Nick Mosby, a Baltimore Democrat running for City Council president, has been leading the push for the state to release a racial breakdown for weeks. He said while the numbers should guide the state’s response moving forward, the health department should also consider offering a breakdown by ZIP code to illuminate how cities such as Baltimore can better protect vulnerable groups.
“Each day that goes on without that data, we’re just delaying the development of an effective and equitable solution,” he said.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also referred to the data as “troubling” Thursday. About 30% of Maryland’s overall population is black, according to U.S. Census data, but the racial group makes up nearly 50% of coronavirus patients whose race was known.
While race data is not available for nearly 22% of Maryland’s confirmed cases, Hogan said Tuesday he is directing the state health lab to report such data from its tests and “be as proactive as anyone in the nation” in pushing private labs to do the same.
At the same time, some elected officials said rumors about who can catch the coronavirus remain pervasive. Baltimore City Council President Brandon Scott said he continues to hear people spout the myth that black people can’t contract the virus.
“I need every, every, every single person in Baltimore to understand COVID-19 is real, and I need black people in Baltimore to understand it 10-times over,” he said.
While the state is taking more actions to protect nursing homes, COVID-19 is already widespread there
The order mandates that the state expedite the testing of “symptomatic” nursing home residents, staffers wear personal protective gear and create designated areas for those suspected of having the disease.
Yet much of the order doesn’t address existing mitigation problems associated with the coronavirus and nursing homes: that asymptomatic residents and staff can also spread the virus; that personal protective gear remains in limited stock everywhere; and that some nursing homes simply do not have the space or bandwidth to fully isolate residents with COVID-19.
Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, said the state is not able to test asymptomatic staff because of a national shortage of tests.
Hospitals are actively preparing for the worst
Given patient surges in other states and researchers’ predictions for the Maryland region to become an “emerging hotspot” for COVID-19, medical systems and health care providers have begun preparing for a 100% to 200% jump in normal demand for services, medical professionals said.
Bob Atlas, CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said while hospitals remain able to handle the caseload, they are also ramping up capacity and adding about 100 specialized tents to house patients.
He said provider networks such as the University of Maryland Medical System, MedStar Health, LifeBridge Health and Johns Hopkins Medicine are all coordinating patients within their systems, as well as with state health and emergency management officials.
For example, Dr. Mike Winters, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and emergency medicine physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said the system’s 13 hospitals have organized an incident command task force, with commanders at each hospital.
UMMS has plans in place to use different units as intensive care units when the need arises. Reducing elective surgery across the hospital network has aided with this reallocation plan.
“Each of these surges has defined triggers for when we open each unit and when staffing will change,” he said.
Dr. Laura Pimentel, also an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and emergency medicine physician at the University of Maryland Medical Center, said while emergency departments across the system have not been busier than usual, the mix of patients has changed, with about half being seen for COVID-19-related complaints or concerns.
So far, there has been an increase in inpatient critical care, which could be a result of patients seeking care for severe symptoms that went untreated when they were mild, she added.
While much about the virus’ timeline remains unknown, schools and universities have shifted to holding classes online. If that practice continues, it could further exacerbate problems like unequal access to technology and gaps in teachers’ training for distance learning.
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Some low-income students likely do not have the same access to broadband Internet or technology as their more affluent peers. Students with learning or behavioral disabilities will also be without the qualified professional help they need for months longer than normal.
This can create disparate outcomes in learning with the potential to affect students’ education for years.
A global pandemic hasn’t slowed Baltimore gun violence or helped with existing police staffing shortages