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Maryland’s coronavirus death toll rises to 31 as more nursing homes report multiple cases

Several new clusters of coronavirus infections erupted in senior citizen facilities across the Baltimore region Wednesday as the surge in cases accelerated in Maryland, nearing 2,000.

Health officials reported seven cases at Genesis Loch Raven Center in Parkville, at least five at Levindale Hebrew Geriatric Center and Hospital in Northwest Baltimore, four at Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster and two at Heritage Center in Dundalk. They involved both residents and staff.

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The outbreaks come as alarm is already high in places where large numbers of elderly people live and receive medical treatment, after nearly 80 people contracted the virus at Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy, and five subsequently died. Gov. Larry Hogan said it’s believed that that outbreak began with an employee who was not showing symptoms of COVID-19 infection.

The 13 coronavirus-related deaths reported Wednesday for Maryland — the most to date for the state in a single day — all involved people age 60 or older, the group considered most at risk. Those deaths brought the state’s COVID-19 death toll to 31, while its total number of cases neared 2,000, a 20% day-to-day increase.

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Hogan warned that the state could experience an outbreak on par with those seen in New York, New Orleans and California in the next two weeks as he stressed the gravity of the stay-at-home order he issued Monday in hopes of preventing that from happening.

“These steps that we are taking are obviously so disruptive to people’s lives, and it’s scary and things that people don’t want to have to deal with,” the Republican governor said on WGMD radio, an Eastern Shore station. “But trust me: It’s going to help save lives.”

Late Wednesday, Baltimore County health officials said six residents have tested positive for the coronavirus at Genesis Loch Raven Center. A staff member also tested positive but already has been cleared to return to work, they said.

One resident and one staff member also tested positive at Dundalk’s Heritage Center, another Genesis HealthCare facility.

Residents who have tested positive are being isolated to their rooms and Genesis has begun notifying patients, residents and their families, said Lori Mayer, a Genesis spokeswoman, in a statement. She said Loch Raven Center has 92 residents.

Staff at the facilities are wearing masks and eye protection, and some employees have been instructed to self-quarantine, Mayer said.

Those reported to be infected at Levindale include one patient in the facility’s specialty hospital and three patients in its sub-acute rehabilitation unit. One staff member also tested positive, and is recovering in home quarantine, according to LifeBridge Health, the hospital’s owner.

Additional test results tied to the Levindale outbreak are pending, Baltimore Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said.

In Carroll County, after the outbreak at Pleasant View Nursing Home, three residents and one staff member at Carroll Lutheran have tested positive for the new coronavirus. Two of the residents only came to the facility from a hospital recently, and all three are staying in isolation, while the staff member is staying home, county health officials said.

Other new cases were reported at a courthouse and a post office in Baltimore as well as first responders in Baltimore County and one among the Regional Transportation Agency bus drivers in Howard County.

The Elijah E. Cummings Courthouse, formerly known as Courthouse East, was undergoing a deep cleaning after two sheriff’s deputies tested positive for the coronavirus there, said Maj. Sabrina Tapp-Harper, a sheriff’s office spokeswoman.

Both deputies, who had been tasked with serving evictions until the state suspended those orders amid the pandemic, said they had family members who tested positive for COVID-19 but continued coming to work until they developed symptoms themselves, Tapp-Harper said.

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Nine additional deputies have been placed on quarantine as a precaution, she said.

Tapp-Harper said services would not be disrupted, though some services, including protective orders, would be relocated to the Clarence Mitchell Courthouse on the other side of North Calvert Street.

And the U.S. Postal Service confirmed that an employee in its Brooklyn branch tested positive for the virus, but a spokeswoman did not provide details about the person’s job or condition. Officials said they believe there is a low risk of infection to other workers at the branch, or through letters or packages.

Four more members of the Baltimore County Fire Department are recovering at home after testing positive for the coronavirus, bringing the total number of cases within the agency to five, a spokeswoman said Wednesday. Two county police officers also tested positive for the virus.

The RTA driver, a Howard County resident, drove a route in the county, including stops at The Mall in Columbia and areas to the south and east, the county health department said. After learning of the positive test result Tuesday, RTA officials removed the bus from service.

In city neighborhoods, police officers took to loudspeakers with a scripted announcement warning residents to stay in their homes as much as possible, under Hogan’s Monday order. They warned people to obey even if they aren’t showing symptoms of the COVID-19 respiratory illness.

“Failure to follow the order could result in a $5,000 fine and up to one year in prison," the announcement says. “By following this order, you are helping to save lives and stopping the spread of this dangerous and deadly disease.”

Meanwhile, a network of Baltimore neighbors was at work reaching out to homebound seniors to ask how they’re doing, whether they have enough to eat and if they’re feeling depressed.

That nascent effort, which started in Southeast Baltimore and on the west side of the city, has trained 16 volunteers so far, but aims to assemble a team of 1,200 to reach out to 85,000 elderly residents. Called the Baltimore Neighbors Network, it has adopted the slogan, “A virus will not tear us apart. We are the medicine." Its website is Baltimoreneighborsnetwork.org.

“We are facing an epidemic of isolation and loneliness,” Democratic City Councilman Zeke Cohen said. “Fortunately, we live in a city that is scrappy, that has a huge heart and anytime there is a crisis, Baltimoreans respond and step up.”

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Though older people generally face the highest risk of complications and death from COVID-19, the state’s latest data on cases shows growing numbers of infections across age groups.

More than half of Maryland’s confirmed cases are ages 30 to 50. About 13% of infections involve people 70 or older, while just 2 percent of people infected are under age 20.

About 42% of the state’s cases are in Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, and about as many are spread across Baltimore and the surrounding counties.

On a conference call with state lawmakers serving on a coronavirus work group, Hogan warned the surge of cases and deaths will continue, taxing the state’s response to the pandemic.

“These numbers are going to continue to climb over the next several weeks at least, and it’s going to cause overwhelming problems for our health care system,” he said. “Our number one priority is saving people’s lives, but we also know it’s a tremendous economic hardship."

State workers at “24/7 operations” in the Department of Health, Department of Juvenile Services and Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, as well as state police officers and firefighters, are eligible for $3.13 more per hour. That amounts to about $250 per two-week pay period, wrote Cynthia A. Kollner, the state’s director of personnel, in a letter Wednesday to union leaders.

The state Health Services Cost Review Commission just informed the hospitals about the emergency funding, which hospitals will need to show are reasonable, officials said. No approvals have been granted yet.

“If the number of coronavirus cases continues to increase, hospitals will need additional financial resources to further expand capacity,” said Adam Kane, chairman of the commission, in a statement. “Our agency is taking action now to ensure hospitals are appropriately funded and ready for the potential surge of patients.”

Elsewhere, business was continuing, but not quite as usual. Instead of hosting several hundred shareholders in a Baltimore-area ballroom with a breakfast buffet, McCormick & Co. executives offered performance highlights in a virtual annual meeting, held from an empty headquarters building in Hunt Valley.

At the meeting, the spice maker typically provides attendees with goodie bags filled with a variety of new spices, sauces and other products. This year, the swag went to first responders and medical workers fighting the virus.

Baltimore Sun Media Group reporters Ana Faguy, Nathan Ruiz, Alison Knezevich, Justin Fenton, Yvonne Wenger, Pamela Wood, Lillian Reed, Daniel Oyefusi, Lorraine Mirabella, Meredith Cohn, Hallie Miller, Jessica Anderson and Taylor DeVille contributed to this article.

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