Two more Maryland residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus, bringing the state’s total of confirmed cases to five, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Sunday.
The two new patients are a Harford County woman in her 80s who is hospitalized and a Montgomery County man in his 60s who was “briefly hospitalized,” according to a statement from Hogan’s office.
Both contracted the virus while traveling overseas, as did the three Montgomery County residents who were identified as having the coronavirus last week.
Health officials said there are “no major concerns over exposure risk to the community” related to the two new cases. Further details of the cases were not made public Sunday, though Hogan scheduled a news conference for Monday afternoon to discuss the state’s coronavirus response.
At that time, Hogan said, he would sign into law an emergency bill passed by state lawmakers that allows him to use up to $50 million from the state’s Rainy Day Fund for coronavirus response, if necessary. He’ll be joined by Senate President Bill Ferguson and House of Delegates Speaker Adrienne A. Jones, both Democrats who expedited passage of the bill through the legislature.
“We continue to hope for the best, and actively plan for the worst. I encourage all Marylanders to remain calm, but to take this seriously and continue to stay informed,” Hogan, a Republican, said in a statement.
Hogan spoke Sunday with the county executives in Harford and Montgomery, as well as with U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
Hogan, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, also has a conference call planned for Monday with other governors and Vice President Mike Pence, who is the Trump administration’s point person on the coronavirus.
Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said health and emergency officials had been preparing for the likelihood that there eventually would be a local case.
“We were kind of hoping we would be one of the last counties, not one of the first counties, to kick into gear,” said Glassman, a Republican.
Glassman said the patient in his county had “extensive overseas travels” and that health officials were retracing her steps and contacts locally.
His office issued a news release Sunday night saying “there appears to be no community exposure from this case, as this person went straight from the airport to home, did not leave her house, and when she began to feel ill, went straight to the hospital for medical evaluation.”
Glassman urged Harford County residents to take the same precautions that have been advised for everyone: Wash your hands well, cover coughs and sneezes, and stay home when sick.
“At this point, we have to stay calm and carry out what we’ve been trained to do,” he said.
On Sunday night, the University of Maryland Medical System sent an email saying that an unspecified COVID-19 patient with a laboratory diagnosis is being treated at one of its hospitals. The patient is one of the five already reported in Maryland, the governor’s office confirmed.
Meanwhile, state health officials Sunday continued reaching out to visitors to a political conference late last month in Prince George’s County that was attended by a New Jersey resident who later tested positive for the coronavirus.
“We are talking about a large-scale effort,” said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan.
The Conservative Political Action Conference, held annually at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center, bills itself as “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.” This year’s CPAC, held Feb. 26-29, drew an appearance from President Donald Trump.
Also attending the conference was a New Jersey resident who grew sick and later tested positive for the coronavirus that’s also known as COVID-19, officials announced Saturday. It is not believed that the president was in proximity to the attendee who tested positive for the coronavirus.
CPAC Chairman Matt Schlapp, speaking Sunday on FOX News, said he had been in touch with the patient. “The patient is feeling better and I believe he is on the mend,” he said.
A dozen Republican Maryland lawmakers attended the final day of CPAC to accept awards for their conservative voting records and watch Trump’s speech, but they don’t believe they were exposed to the New Jersey patient, said Del. Matt Morgan, a St. Mary’s County Republican.
The group was given VIP treatment, ushered through a separate security line and placed in seating to watch the speech away from the crowd, he said.
“We kind of bypassed everything,” Morgan said.
Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, Anne Arundel County health officer, discusses what to do if you're sick and worried you might have contracted the coronavirus.
Morgan said he was concerned when he first heard of the CPAC-connected case of the coronavirus on Saturday afternoon, but after speaking with conference organizers and Maryland Department of Health officials, he said he’s not too worried.
“We had very little contact with the general public there,” Morgan said.
A U.S. congressman from Arizona announced Sunday that he is quarantining himself at home after he came in contact with the person at CPAC.
Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican, said that during the conference “members of my staff and I came into contact with an individual who has since tested positive for, and is hospitalized for, COVID-19. I was with the individual for an extended period of time, and we shook hands several times."
Gosar said neither he nor his staff feels ill.
“However, in order to prevent any potential transmission, I will remain at my home in Arizona until the conclusion of the 14 day period following my interaction with this individual," he said. “Additionally, out of an abundance of caution, I am closing my office in Washington, D.C. for the week and my team will follow the previously approved" plan to work outside the office.
Earlier Sunday, U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, also Republican, said he had brief contact with the man at CPAC and would spend the next few days at his home in Texas until a full 14 days had passed since their interaction
Morgan said the Republican lawmakers will follow the advice that’s been given for all CPAC attendees: Monitor your health and report any symptoms to your doctor and local health department.
State health officials have been retracing the steps and interactions of the New Jersey person who was at CPAC, which is known as “contact tracing.”
State health officials have been running about 15 to 20 tests a day, according to Ricci. They’re no longer reporting the number of pending tests now that private labs also have approval to test people for the coronavirus.
The private labs will report their test results to the state, and the health department’s website will continue to report the number of confirmed positive and negative tests at 10 a.m. daily.
The state’s public health lab has about 1,000 test kits and expects to get more in the coming days. There’s no concern about having enough capacity for testing at this time, Ricci said.
He stressed that governors “are on the front lines” of responding to the coronavirus outbreak.
“Information is changing not only on a daily basis, but almost on an hourly basis,” he said.
The U.S. death toll from the virus climbed to 21 on Sunday, with all but three victims in Washington state. Infections rose to more than 500, including the first case in the nation’s capital.
Hogan previously declared a state of emergency in Maryland, which allowed the state to mobilize its emergency operations center and ramp up coordination with federal agencies.
A budget request for an additional $10 million for the coronavirus is pending as lawmakers continue their evaluation of Hogan’s budget proposal. The Hogan administration said the money would be spent on purchasing equipment for the state public health lab, paying additional staff, setting up quarantine and isolation areas, improving data analysis, providing transportation for patients, acquiring communications equipment and other potential needs.