Even so, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan has laid out a four-pronged approach to reopening the state’s halted economy once the case count starts to drop. The steps include ramping up the state’s testing capacity, adding to the stock of personal protective equipment, preparing hospitals for a patient surge and implementing contact tracing to determine who may have been exposed to the infection.
Much of the state’s response to the virus this week hinged on this layered approach, developed by Hogan in coordination with his coronavirus advisory team.
To keep Marylanders up-to-date with the week’s most pressing takeaways, here are five key points from The Baltimore Sun’s coronavirus coverage.
Hogan makes case for state-led diplomacy after brokering deal with South Korea
After the White House encouraged governors to secure their own coronavirus tests and protective supplies, Hogan set out to do just that using his connections in South Korea — the birthplace of his wife, Yumi.
The Hogans made national headlines this week after disclosing their acquisition of 500,000 South Korean test kits that arrived to BWI-Thurgood Marshall International Airport via passenger plane. Hogan said more tests will enable the state to paint a clearer portrait of the virus’ scale in Maryland.
“States were fighting and clawing to get tests from the federal government, and we searched around the world," Hogan said in a live video interview Thursday with Politico’s Jake Sherman and Anna Palmer. “This was about saving people’s lives. It wasn’t something we planned for when starting these relationships.”
In response, President Donald Trump said in live television interviews that Hogan “didn’t really understand” the federal testing capacity and that he “needed more knowledge.”
“He didn’t know about the federal labs,” Trump said about Hogan. “He could’ve called [Vice President] Mike Pence and saved a lot of money, but that’s OK.”
Hogan defended himself against Trump’s criticism, and said Maryland now has more test kits in its possession than many other states combined.
He sent a letter to Trump Tuesday afternoon thanking the president for “the continued coordination” and said he appreciated the “generous offer” to make federal labs available to use for processing coronavirus tests.
Meanwhile, a coalition of Maryland nursing homes have asked Hogan to use some of the tests from South Korea on universal testing for all of their residents and staff. Mike Ricci, a spokesman for the governor, said “all options are under consideration” as to how the state will distribute the kits.
Speaking of nursing homes, the state has refused to release a list of all the infected facilities
In a letter, state health department official Heather Shek wrote that full disclosure of the infected nursing homes does not help protect the public. But nursing home directors say such information would help them identify who among their staffers might have been exposed, since many work in multiple facilities.
Shek added that state and local health departments “are closely monitoring outbreaks at nursing homes and other congregate living facilities, assessing facility practices and resources, and engaging on-site ‘go teams’ to provide additional support when indicated.”
The reopening of a former Laurel hospital adds more beds to a particularly hard-hit region
Hogan and Prince George’s County Executive Angela Alsobrooks jointly announced Wednesday the reopening of Laurel Medical Center, which will add about 135 beds to the state’s stock.
Hogan called for 6,000 more beds last month, which can help accommodate a potential surge of patients seeking treatment for COVID-19 while maintaining the ability to care for all other urgent medical needs. So far, the state reported over 3,400 patients have been hospitalized for complications associated with the coronavirus. Early estimations of the state’s available bed supply equated to about 9,400 total.
Officials said the Laurel hospital can help address the disproportionate number of infections in its native Prince George’s County, which has the highest case count of any Maryland county with over 4,100 confirmed.
It’s also located near Howard and Anne Arundel counties, which have at least 618 and 1,294 cases, respectively.
Alsobrooks noted that over 150 of the state’s deaths from the coronavirus have been in Prince George’s County.
“These are not cases. These are people,” said Alsobrooks, a Democrat.
The state has added several hundred beds to its stock over the last few weeks with the help of the Maryland National Guard and due to the cancellation of elective surgeries at most hospitals.
Patients in need of urgent, non-coronavirus care can still get treated
The addition of beds and the clearance of elective surgery space mean hospitals have the resources and bandwidth to treat patients in need of emergency medical care, such as those experiencing heart attacks or strokes.
Emergency departments have gone to great lengths to safely admit and care for patients suffering from COVID-19 as well as those seeking treatment for other conditions, said Dr. Angela Smedley, medical director of the University of Maryland Medical Center’s adult emergency department.
Aside from physically separating patients with symptoms of the coronavirus from other patient populations, the medical system has accelerated the triage process and mandated that all doctors wear personal protective gear, said Smedley, also an associate professor at the university’s medical school.
“We don’t want your first thought to be, ‘I’m afraid to go because I don’t want to infect others or because I’m afraid to get sick,' because we’ve addressed both of those things,” she said. “We have resources for you to use and COVID-19 should not stop you from using them.”
Those experiencing chest discomfort or signs of stroke should not hesitate before consulting with a doctor, medical professionals said, as outcomes of both often depend on the quickness with which they are handled. Patients can also schedule virtual appointments with providers thanks to the loosening of regulatory barriers to telehealth.
University finances are taking a big hit
Institutions such as Johns Hopkins University and the University System of Maryland generate much of the state’s revenue each year, via student tuition dollars, elective surgeries and employment opportunities for thousands of workers. But with business as normal at a standstill, they will face major revenue setbacks that could affect them for years to come.
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Endowments, meanwhile, have also suffered at the hands of a stock market in decline.
“At no point during the Great Recession did we suffer the revenue losses that we have suffered this year," said Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels. “This is a shock to the state and the country that is unprecedented.”
In effect, Hopkins will likely institute pay cuts, furloughs and layoffs to its workforce. University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman said while the university system has not yet projected what the long-term financial implications of the shutdown may be, its institutions have restricted hiring significantly.
Universities with medical centers are facing similar budget problems across the country. Daniels said he is hoping that Congress may provide financial relief for hospitals in the next stimulus package.