Coronavirus in Maryland: 5 takeaways from the week

Democratic vice presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris shared a debate stage with Vice President Mike Pence this week, and the former prosecutor from California immediately slammed the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force leader for the administration’s handling of the pandemic.

“They knew what was happening, and they didn’t tell you,” Harris said, referring to reporting by Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward that demonstrated President Donald Trump’s extensive knowledge of the virus' severity in January. “They knew, and they covered it up.”


Pence, a former governor from Indiana, shot back that a Joe Biden administration would confront the coronavirus almost identically to the Trump administration: with mass testing, contact tracing and a race toward a vaccine.

Meanwhile, cases have surged in several states, with new hot spots emerging in Wisconsin and the Dakotas. In Maryland, hospitalizations have ticked upward, with over 400 people occupying bed space across the state and a total of 3,835 deaths as of Thursday.


To catch Marylanders up on the stories they may have missed, here are five key points from The Baltimore Sun’s coronavirus coverage.

Marylanders urged to get tested as White House case count grows

Health officials in the DMV area have advised residents who have worked in the White House over the past two weeks or who attended the Rose Garden announcement for Supreme Court pick Amy Coney Barrett to get tested for the coronavirus.

The scope of the outbreak has not officially been quantified, though more than two dozen people within the Trump orbit have tested positive since last week, including first lady Melania Trump, press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, top adviser Stephen Miller and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (plus, the president himself).

“Given the growing numbers of positive COVID cases reported from staff working in and near the White House ... there may be other staff and residents at risk for exposure to COVID positive individuals,” the Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, D.C., advisory read.

Although the White House has said contact tracing is underway, media reports indicate the administration has made little effort to investigate the extent of the Rose Garden’s outbreak.

A White House spokesperson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

So far, at least one Baltimore resident is known to have had close contact with the president since the ceremony: Johns Hopkins Hospital’s Dr. Brian Garibaldi, a top respiratory and critical care physician who helped designed the institution’s biocontainment unit.

Dr. Garibaldi “is consulting with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center experts and the White House Medical Unit to assist with the COVID-19 treatment plan for President Donald Trump,” said a statement from Hopkins.

FDA aims to reassert credibility at Johns Hopkins symposium

Public health professionals tend to agree that a COVID-19 vaccine would be the most efficient way to lower the risks associated with the infectious virus and return to a version of day-to-day normalcy.

But with the president promising a vaccine in the immediate future even when medical experts say otherwise, federal regulators, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, have faced questions from the public about the safety and efficacy of those long-promised vaccines.

A Johns Hopkins-led symposium conducted Tuesday aimed to restore public trust in vaccinations by inviting a slate of top experts from across the country to discuss how to keep the integrity of the process intact.

It coincided with the FDA’s release of new guidelines on what it expects from drug companies as they push for approval of their vaccines.

“We’ll need to see data from a large, well-designed, stage-three clinical trial that shows clear and compelling efficacy of a vaccine,” said Peter Marks, the FDA’s director of the Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research. The agency will make all clinical trial data available, establish an independent advisory committee to review clinical trial outcomes, and recruit massive numbers of diverse participants for those trials.

The FDA’s new guidance requires drug companies to monitor trial participants for at least two months to rule out safety problems before seeking emergency approval. That guarantees that a vaccine will not be ready before the presidential election, contrary to the president’s remarks.

City officials fear spike in STDs

Based on the latest available data, Baltimore City had the highest sexually transmitted disease rate in the country, with 2,004 cases per 100,000 people as of 2018. New numbers show encouraging declines in those figures, with reports of chlamydia decreasing by 20%. Reports of gonorrhea and HIV dropped, too.

But those numbers may be deceiving, said Dr. Adena Greenbaum, assistant commissioner of clinical services at the city’s health department. In fact, she and other sexual health experts are bracing for STD rates to get worse.

“That’s just STDs that were reported — it doesn’t mean that they weren’t there,” she said of the preliminary data, which has yet to be finalized. “I just think it really shows what happens when the reporting system closes down, or really gets reduced capacity.”

The pandemic has forced clinics and health care providers to cut back on in-person testing services and outreach efforts. With a new infectious disease to track, Baltimore City has also had to divert its contact tracing manpower from STDs.

Before the pandemic, no appointment was necessary to visit one of the two sexual health clinics run by the Baltimore health department. Now walk-ins aren’t permitted, and the city is offering only limited testing to those who are symptomatic.

However, more people than ever are requesting personal test kits from Johns Hopkins, Greenbaum said. In fact, according to data provided by the “I Want The Kit” program, requests between April and June increased by about 163% from the first three months of this year.

In-person jury trials resume with some changes

Maryland judges have been working for months to develop protocols to resume jury trials during the pandemic, and Monday brought the first jury trial in six months. It came as one city judge tested positive for the virus that same day.


It’s one of several COVID-19 cases to surface in Baltimore Circuit Court. Late last month, a clerk and attorney who attended a pretrial conference came down with the virus. In early September, an employee of the sheriff’s office who works at the courthouse contracted the virus.


Some changes have been implemented to ensure safety inside the courthouse. Clear, plastic dividers separate each seat of the jury box in courtrooms. Judges, clerks and attorneys sit surrounded by the dividers. When entering, jurors were screened with questions and a device that scanned for body temperature.

The jury selection process has also shifted: Usually, a jury pool with 50 or more people fills the courtroom.

On Monday, Circuit Judge Philip Jackson called prospective jurors into the courtroom one by one, creating a slower-than-normal process.

Half of Marylanders say they’ll vote by mail

A newly released Goucher College Poll reports that 48% of likely voters surveyed expected to use a mail-in ballot and either mail it in or take it to a ballot drop box. About half of all likely voters planned to cast ballots in person, either on Election Day or at early voting centers.

It showed Democrats favored voting by mail, while more Republicans planned to vote in person. Of the likely Democratic voters surveyed, 59% said they would vote by mail, while 72% of likely Republican voters expected to vote in person.

State election officials have encouraged voters to participate by mail-in ballots to reduce crowds at polling places. They’ve said for months that they expect about half of participating voters to make use of mail-in ballots, a figure reflected by the poll.

That party divide could shape the results available by election night. Returns released shortly after polls close will include tallies from votes cast in person and any mail-in ballots counted before Election Day. With that tabulation including the votes from early voting and Election Day, the initial results could overrepresent the state’s Republican voters as well as the country’s.

Baltimore Sun reporters Angela Roberts, Emily Opilo, Meredith Cohn and Tim Prudente contributed to this article.