The new coronavirus has upended life in Maryland, with a known case now in every county. As officials encourage more and more workers to stay at home to slow the spread of the dangerous illness, the virus’ chokehold on the economy continues to tighten.
Worldwide, more than 1 million people have tested positive for COVID-19 and about 50,000 have died in its wake, according to a data set maintained by Johns Hopkins. Federal and state officials warn that those numbers will continue to grow as time ticks on.
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.
Confined spaces with vulnerable populations are vulnerable to outbreaks
The spread of the coronavirus in nursing homes, geriatric centers and corrections facilities this week has elicited concerns about the intermixing of vulnerable persons with the staffs who care for and oversee them.
Some essential employees work in multiple locales and can catch the virus despite their best efforts to avoid it. And even if administrators screen workers at the door for fevers before they start their shifts, the asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 can unknowingly transfer the virus.
Such was the case at Mount Airy’s Pleasant View Nursing home, where Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said an employee without symptoms likely infected the facility. Out of 95 residents, five have died and more than 70 others have tested positive for the coronavirus, many of them hospitalized.
Similar scenarios have played out across the country to devastating results. And without sufficient testing capability, the threat of the virus spreading to those with preexisting conditions, seniors and other vulnerable persons living in close quarters remains likely.
Millions are unemployed and seeking help
New figures released Thursday show a record-breaking twofold increase among those seeking unemployment insurance in the state. Some 84,000 Marylanders filed jobless claims last week — just a small fraction of the total 6.6 million Americans seeking unemployment benefits due to the coronavirus.
The numbers not only illustrate the virus’ devastation on the country’s financial well-being, but highlight just how many Americans do not have the luxury of conducting their work offsite. Before the coronavirus hit the U.S., many lived paycheck to paycheck and lacked sick leave, health insurance and enough cash on hand to pay a medical bill. Now, their problems have worsened, as many will not have a place of work to return to once the virus abates.
The hoarding and price gouging of essential goods exacerbates the challenges facing the unemployed. People struggling to feed their families do not necessarily have the means to stock up on food, sanitation items and cleaning products relative to the working population, especially at higher-than-average rates.
In response, several Maryland community leaders and organizations have banded together to help those who have been removed from the payroll. Several food drives, donation drop-off sites and neighborhood resource networks have surfaced, seeking to minimize the force of the impact.
Charities, both local and national, are also accepting donations specifically to help those impacted by this public health crisis. And those who are looking for help with paying rent can find some resources here.
Marylanders should brace for impact
Though many more Marylanders have tested negative for the coronavirus than positive, the rate of infection among the region’s population has sparked alarm among elected officials.
“We’re just kind of the next wave of hot spots,” Hogan said in a recent TV interview. He added that Maryland could follow in the steps of New York in the number of confirmed cases and deaths in the next few weeks.
States such as New York and Louisiana have become centers of the virus, with cases overwhelming the hospital systems and employees vocalizing the need for more supplies, test kits and personal protective gear.
The state has preemptively formed a Maryland Surge Task Force that has been tasked with adding up to 6,000 more acute care beds and securing more ventilators, which can help patients when the coronavirus spreads to the lungs. The governor has also rolled out a series of executive orders aimed to transition more people to work from home and slow the spread of the virus.
Still, the state has not yet reached the peak of the coronavirus spread. Until then, Marylanders must remain cognizant of the risks associated with leaving the home and continue washing their hands, minimizing direct contact with others and staying away from hospitals for non-urgent matters.
More bad news afoot for the essential workforce
This week, positive coronavirus cases surfaced among U.S. postal workers, firefighters, police officers and other essential personnel. These employees, critical pieces of daily life, must balance keeping the state afloat with maintaining their own safety.
Scientists and medical experts say there’s evidence pointing to the coronavirus spreading through the air. This makes avoiding the coronavirus especially difficult for those who must interact with others every day, ride public transportation and share office space.
The virus’ many unknowns, including how long it remains airborne, the length of time it remains on surfaces of all kinds, and how effective gloves and masks are in protecting people from the virus make keeping the illness at bay all the more challenging.
Breaking News Alerts
Though most people infected with the coronavirus recover from it, the disease has spread among patients of all ages, proving especially lethal among those over age 60 and with chronic health conditions. Unfortunately, those who work in industries deemed as essential might not be able to shield themselves from the coronavirus and have scarce information and data upon which to rely.
Things were bad in Baltimore. Then came the coronavirus.
Even before the coronavirus, Baltimore had experienced public health crises.
More than 300 have been killed in the city annually for five consecutive years; many public schools students can’t drink tap or fountain water due to lead contamination; public housing tenants frequently complained of bedbugs, mold and asbestos in their living quarters; and vacant and abandoned buildings in nearly every neighborhood risked collapsing.
These same problems still exist. But now, a rampant and potentially deadly virus has taken center stage.
Baltimore officials have continued working amid the coronavirus outbreak, with public meetings taking place over video chat and staffers working out of home offices. But with looming economic losses, the city will likely have fewer resources than normal to address its continuing issues when the virus’ spread lessens, making the usual problems all the more problematic.
Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said Wednesday the city expects to end the fiscal year with a $42.3 million deficit. And even before the pandemic, Young had instructed all agencies to cut costs 5% by 2022 in anticipation of an expensive statewide plan to improve public schools.
No matter who leads Baltimore next year — Young, the incumbent, or one of the many Democratic or Republican challengers looking to replace him in November’s planned mayoral election — the next leader of the city ought to expect to take the helm and steer the ship through turbulent waters.