Issuing a somber message Wednesday, Gov. Larry Hogan said the coronavirus outbreak in Maryland is just beginning and escalating rapidly.
His comments came as the state reported an additional 74 cases, bringing Maryland’s confirmed total to at least 423. It was the second day in a row the state added a record number of cases.
“People are looking for certainty, but the truth is we simply do not know how bad it is going to get or how long it is going to last," the Republican governor said during a news conference in Annapolis.
Hogan also directed any state resident or visitor who has been in New York City or traveled to the tri-state area to quarantine in place for 14 days. Infections in New York City are surging, as the metropolitan area has become an epicenter of the outbreak.
While Maryland has not seen the “level of infection and death” as other states, the governor said the actions here have been aggressive in an attempt to slow the spread of the respiratory illness.
Public schools in Maryland will stay closed through April 24, state Superintendent Karen Salmon announced Wednesday. On Monday, the governor ordered all nonessential businesses closed, announced plans to convert the Baltimore Convention Center and nearby Hilton Hotel into a field hospital and rolled out a $175 million relief package for workers and small businesses.
After President Donald Trump said Tuesday he wants the country “opened up and just raring to go by Easter,” which is in about two weeks, Hogan said “we can’t predict” how long the pandemic will last when asked Wednesday. While he did not comment on the president’s remarks, he said: “You can’t put a time frame on saving people’s lives.”
But later, in a question-and-answer program on Fox 5 in Washington, Hogan said he didn’t want to “point fingers” but that it was “not really helpful for the president to make those comments.”
Among the most pressing demands the governor must deal with is increasing hospital capacity to handle a surge in patients. As of Wednesday, Hogan said the state is a week ahead of its 6,000-bed goal with the addition of 2,400 beds.
The challenge of expanding manpower to hospitals and clinics remains. He said he has called on officials to fast track licensing for people with expired medical licenses and for out-of-state practitioners. He also gave paramedics clearance to work in clinics and field hospitals.
Hogan activated the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps, a force of 5,000 medical and health care professionals who volunteer to help in emergencies. Since the pandemic began, another 2,300 people have signed up to be a part of the program and 700 are ready to be activated.
Hogan expects to also be able to tap nursing students and doctors in training. He said some of the volunteers come from other professions, such as behavioral health specialists, engineers, child care workers, teachers and construction workers.
Meanwhile, as testing slowly ramps up in Maryland, so have the number of confirmed cases. Wednesday’s tally surpassed the 61 new cases reported Tuesday, which had been the state’s largest reported increase to date.
Maryland does not yet report its number of failed coronavirus tests, so it’s unknown whether the increases represent the spread of the virus or a higher number of administered tests.
Most of the confirmed cases — 335 of the state’s 423 — involve people aged 18 to 64. Hogan said the majority of those who have tested positive in Maryland are in their 40s.
Four people have died. While their names have not be released publicly, three of the victims were men in their 60s with underlying health conditions. The fourth was a Montgomery County woman in her 40s who also had underlying medical conditions, officials said.
People who are 65 and older are considered most susceptible to the effects of the coronavirus, and they account for 83 of Maryland’s cases.
Five of the state’s cases involve children and teenagers. While young people generally don’t have severe cases, they can spread the virus to others, including older family members. For that reason, gathering children and grandparents is discouraged, state health officials said.
The virus is now confirmed to be in 22 of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions. Kent County reported its first case Wednesday. Montgomery County has the most cases with 127, followed by Prince George’s County at 76, Baltimore City at 53 and Baltimore County at 51.
To provide the treatment people need, Maryland officials are seeking supplies worldwide, including face masks, testing materials and ventilators, Hogan said. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, he said, has provided some supplies, but the state needs a great deal more. Officials are working on an inventory from across sectors, including hospitals and laboratories.
Hogan thanked the companies that have pivoted their missions to provide needed supplies, including Sagamore Spirit Distillery, which is making hand sanitizer, and Marlin Steel, a Baltimore company that fast-tracked an order for stainless steel test tube racks. Sagamore is owned by Kevin Plank, a partner in the group that The Baltimore Sun leases its printing plant and offices in Port Covington from.
The nation’s governors continue to push for more federal action, including ramping up the production of protective gear for hospital workers and emergency personnel, Hogan said. Another call between the White House and governors is scheduled for Thursday.
Maryland has asked Trump to issue a presidential disaster declaration for the state. Such a measure would open up funding for state and local governments and nonprofits to offer crisis counseling assistance and training, debris removal and emergency protective measures and various hazard mitigation resources.
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Hospitals and clinics are also in desperate need of blood, Hogan said. The University of Maryland Medical Center and the America Red Cross will hold a blood drive. People can sign up on the Red Cross website.
Hogan said Marylanders have been shown “tremendous cooperation” in following the directives from the state to stay home. He said he is aware of about a dozen instances where law enforcement had to break up large groups, and the people involved willingly dispersed. The governor said he also is not aware of any nonessential businesses unlawfully remaining open.
Asked if the state will go to a stay-at-home directive, Hogan said he believes Maryland’s approach is more effective by encouraging people to stay in their home and closing businesses.
Hogan also must make decisions about some 680 bills the General Assembly sent him before adjourning last week. But, given the demands of managing the outbreak response, the governor said he has given “zero” attention to the legislation.
The bills deal with everything from the coronavirus, school funding and renovating the Laurel Park and Pimlico thoroughbred horse racing tracks to increasing the tobacco tax, reforming parts of the child support system and adding background checks on private sales and transfers of rifles and shotguns.
While he is focused on the pandemic, Hogan said his legislative team is working remotely to review and advise him on the bills. The legislature has 20 days to present bills to the governor after its adjournment, and then Hogan has 30 days after he receives them to act.
Baltimore Sun reporters Luke Broadwater, Nathan Ruiz, Jeff Barker and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.