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Coronavirus case count balloons, state’s fifth death confirmed, as Maryland and Bloomberg back Johns Hopkins treatment research

As newly confirmed coronavirus cases continued to soar Friday across Maryland and a fifth resident died, the state and Michael Bloomberg’s foundation committed millions to fund research at the Johns Hopkins University into a possible treatment for patients suffering from COVID-19.

The money ― $1 million from the state and $3 million from Bloomberg Philanthropies — will back research to harvest and isolate the blood plasma of COVID-19 survivors by Dr. Arturo Casadevall, a Hopkins infectious disease specialist. Casadevall and fellow researchers hope to create a serum that could help others fighting the virus and potentially boost the immune system of healthcare workers exposed to it.

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Such a serum could serve as a bridge to when researchers develop a vaccine against the virus. A vaccine is already in development but is 12 to 18 months away from being approved and made widely available.

Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels said the research institution is uniquely equipped to merge its clinical and research expertise “to stem the tide of this devastation pandemic worldwide.”

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“Dr. Casadevall, like so many other Hopkins researchers, is joining with partners across the globe in a race against the clock, and his work embodies to the fullest our university’s mission to serve humanity through discovery,” Daniels said.

Casadevall, in an email Friday night, said he owed thanks to Bloomberg.

“This gift is a tremendous shot in the arm that will allow us to get going on deploying convalescent sera in the fight against coronavirus.”

In a statement, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who suspended his campaign for the Democratic nomination for president this month, said the disease requires urgent attention and called it “the greatest public health challenge of our generation."

He added he hopes the blood plasma research can not only save patients but also safeguard the lives of healthcare workers on the front lines of the crisis.

Though Johns Hopkins will lead the research, other medical centers and doctors from nearly two dozen hospitals and research centers will participate, including researchers at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota, the Stanford University Medical Center in California, and the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Donors will be asked to have their plasma drawn at local Red Cross blood banks or the New York Blood Bank, which is collaborating in the effort.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the state is fortunate to be surrounded by some of the best health research facilities in the world.

“I am confident in our state’s ability to be a leader in developing treatments and perhaps even a vaccine for COVID-19,” the Republican governor said in a statement.

The funding announcement came Friday as the number of confirmed coronavirus cases in the state ballooned to at least 774, a caseload that has more than doubled in the past three days. Confirmed cases in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia now exceeded 1,500, Hogan said in a statement.

State officials said 173 people have been hospitalized and 25 have been released from isolation as of Friday. More than half a million people worldwide have been infected by COVID-19, and nearly 25,000 have died, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins.

“Cases in the National Capital Region have more than quadrupled over the last week alone,” Hogan said in the statement. “There is no timetable and no model that can tell us exactly how long this will last or how bad this is going to get.”

The Maryland Department of Health announced Friday night that the fifth person to die from the coronavirus was an Anne Arundel County man in his 80s. The previous patients who have died were identified as three men in their 60s and a woman in her 40s, all with underlying health conditions. The men lived in Prince George’s County and Baltimore County. The woman lived in Montgomery County.

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No other details were released about the latest death.

“We don’t yet know who he is, but we know that he is one of us. We want his family to know that we are there for them,” Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman said Friday night. "This is the first for our county, and we know that it won’t be the last. This loss should strengthen our resolve to act as though each of us are carriers of COVID-19, because any us could be. We must slow the spread of this virus.”

While people over the age of 65 and those with compromised immune systems are considered most vulnerable to the disease, nearly three-quarters of the state’s confirmed cases — 568 of the 774 — were people younger than age 60, according to the state.

In a Friday radio interview, Hogan warned younger Marylanders not to believe they’re “bullet-proof.”

“At first we were talking [about] this thing affecting older people,” Hogan said. “That’s completely false. ... Most of our cases are actually younger people.”

For the first time Friday, the Maryland health department further broke down the age groups of those infected. The disease has been confirmed in 161 people in their 40s; 149 people in their 50s; 136 people in their 30s and 107 people in their 20s, according to the state.

Seventy-five people in their 70s; 21 people older than 80; and 11 people ages 10-19 have tested positive for the disease, the state said. Four children younger than 9 have tested positive for the disease.

Montgomery County continued to lead the state Friday with the most coronavirus cases, 208, followed by Prince George’s with 148, Baltimore County with 103, Baltimore City with 88, Anne Arundel with 63 and Howard with 62. Harford County has 18 and Carroll has 9. Only Allegany and Dorchester counties have no reported cases.

Of the cases in Maryland, 392 of those confirmed are men and 382 are women, the state said.

On Friday, Baltimore County announced that two of its first responders, a police officer and a firefighter, have tested positive for COVID-19. Both individuals are recovering in self-quarantine.

The Carroll County Health Department also said Friday that two residents of a Mount Airy nursing home have tested positive for the coronavirus and more than 60 other residents of Pleasant View Nursing Home are awaiting test results. The two sickened residents have been hospitalized. All residents and staff with symptoms have been tested and any staff with symptoms are isolating at home, said Maggie Kunz, a spokeswoman for the county health department. Residents with symptoms are being isolated at the nursing home, Kunz said.

Friday’s increase in cases followed an order Thursday by Maryland schools Superintendent Karen Salmon forcing the closure of most child care centers in Maryland by the end of the day Friday. State schools remain closed for the next four weeks, with universities in Maryland’s system transitioning to online learning for the rest of the semester and K-12 learners expected to resume instruction remotely as early as next week.

The governor said the state would forge ahead with enforcing the ban on public gatherings of more than 10 people, even deploying Natural Resources Police and park rangers to shut down major activity in parks.

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“I cannot stress this enough: Marylanders need to stay in place at home to help slow the spread of this deadly virus,” Hogan said. “Our state has already faced and overcome daunting challenges before, and we will do so again.”

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