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Maryland reports nearly 60% of coronavirus victims are long-term care residents as 4-day decline in new cases ends

Nearly three-fifths of Marylanders killed by the coronavirus are residents of long-term care facilities, according to the state’s update of nursing home data Wednesday for the first time since last week.

The Maryland Department of Health reported that 793 of the state’s 1,338 victims, almost 60%, were residents of nursing homes, rehabilitation facilities and similar long-term care facilities. An additional 11 deaths were staff members of those facilities, with more than one of every five of Maryland’s confirmed infections being a resident or staff member of congregate living facilities.

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The state also reported 1,045 new cases of the coronavirus Wednesday, ending a run of four consecutive days with fewer new confirmed cases than the previous day.

To get a handle on the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus, Gov. Larry Hogan announced plans last week to test all nursing home residents and staff and establish specialized bridge teams of nurses to support facilities with staff shortages.

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“We’re going through it systematically with the hottest ones with the biggest problems and working our way down the list,” the Republican governor said in a news conference in Annapolis on Wednesday.

Facing limited testing capacity and other logistical challenges, the state remains “at a very early stage” in that process, said Joe DeMattos, president and CEO of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland.

Resident testing at the 226 nursing homes across the state should begin this week, state officials say. Testing of staff, whom many believe spread the virus into nursing homes, won’t take place until plans are in place for replacing those who test positive.

”The reality is right now, in Maryland and in many places across the country, we still don’t have adequate testing capacity, which means tests, swabs and lab capacity," DeMattos said Wednesday. “At this point, state teams have not visited or tested anywhere near the majority of Maryland nursing homes.”

Although those who are at least 60 years old represent only 30% of the state’s caseload, they account for 88% of the state’s victims, among those whose age was known. More than a quarter of the infections in those 80 or older have resulted in death, with 55 of the state’s 99 probable deaths — those believed to be caused by the virus but not confirmed by a laboratory test — being in that age range.

Known outbreaks worsened at several facilities with deaths more than doubling to 21 at Future Care Lochearn in Northeast Baltimore, site of the state’s largest outbreak. There were five more deaths at Future Care Chesapeake, bringing its toll to 18.

Deaths also surged at Erickson Living’s Riderwood Village - Arbor Ridge in Beltsville, to 23 from six last week, and the Clinton Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in Prince George’s County, which had 20 deaths, up from none a week ago.

“Our nursing homes have been hot spots for the virus in part because of slow federal and state responses,” said House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones at a virtual meeting of the legislature’s COVID-19 work group. “We’re getting better but we have a lot of challenges ahead of us.”

Despite promises of universal testing in nursing homes, the state is “nowhere close to making that a reality," said U.S. Rep. Anthony Brown, the unsuccessful 2014 Democratic nominee for governor.

“We need more than hopeful assurances to stem this tide," Brown said. “The lack of an actionable plan for testing and safeguarding these facilities — two months after the first case of COVID-19 in a nursing home — is frankly a shameful failure.”

The 1,045 new cases announced Wednesday brought the state to 28,163 total confirmed coronavirus cases. While Wednesday ended four days in a row with declining cases, five of Maryland’s eight highest new case counts have come in the past week.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said Wednesday morning that the increase in confirmed cases is expected, given expanded testing. He said the numbers of people who are dying and who are hospitalized are more important to follow than the total number of cases.

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“We feel that our efforts with regard to mitigation … have allowed us to not only limit the amount of the spread, but more so to make sure our hospitals and health care system are not overwhelmed,” Rutherford said at the state of a Board of Public Works meeting.

Hogan’s office has pointed to declining or leveling in hospitalization rates and intensive care cases as the metrics it is monitoring closely to determine when to begin to ease stay-at-home orders and reopen Maryland.

The state reported 1,707 coronavirus patients were hospitalized as of Wednesday morning, compared to 1,693 on Tuesday. Of those, 584 are in intensive care, up from 573 on Tuesday.

Racial disparities in the data remained in line with prior days, with African Americans accounting for more than 42% of Maryland’s infections and fatalities, among those whose race was known, while representing 30% of the state’s overall population. Those who are Hispanic, 10% of Maryland’s population, represent nearly a quarter of the state’s cases.

The top seven ZIP codes in the state by total confirmed cases are all in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, Maryland’s two jurisdictions with the most cases. Two Baltimore area ZIP codes, 21215 and 21224, rank eighth and ninth, respectively.

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Luke Broadwater contributed to this article.

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