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Maryland leaders warn of coronavirus presence at CPAC as Rockville senior center residents are monitored for signs of illness

Governor Larry Hogan updated the citizens of Maryland of the latest news on the coronavirus in cases associated with the state.

Gov. Larry Hogan on Saturday announced another potential exposure point for the new coronavirus in Maryland: a major conservative political conference attended by President Donald Trump.

The announcement, which urged other attendees of the Conservative Political Action Conference to monitor their temperatures and report any signs of illness to their local health departments, represented the latest effort among many to control the spread of the novel respiratory illness, both in Maryland and across the nation and world.

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Hogan’s office said the state’s health department was informed Saturday by health officials in New Jersey that a patient who had tested positive for the disease, known as COVID-19, had attended the CPAC event in the state’s Washington suburbs between Feb. 27 and March 1.

The event, which pitches itself as “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world,” was held in National Harbor in Prince George’s County. Trump, a Republican, spoke at the event, which also was attended by Vice President Mike Pence. The White House says there is no indication that either Trump or Pence was in proximity to the attendee who tested positive.

Hogan, a Republican who did not attend, said those who were there, including workers, “may be at some risk for acquiring" the disease.

“Immediately after learning of this individual’s interactions in our state, we began coordinating with the White House, the CDC and federal officials, the New Jersey Department of Health, Prince George’s County officials, and conference organizers,” Hogan said. “Due to the scale of this conference, we are urging attendees who are experiencing flu-like symptoms to immediately reach out to their health care provider."

Hogan said his office was “providing this update not to unnecessarily raise alarm, but in the interest of full transparency and out of an abundance of caution.”

The warning followed another by officials at a Rockville retirement community that one of three Marylanders known to have the disease had recently visited, attending an event there. They said they were working with state health officials to monitor residents who may have come into contact with the patient, but had not identified symptoms in anyone else as of Saturday.

Late Saturday, a spokesman for Hogan confirmed that a fourth patient was being treated for the virus in Maryland, after leaving the District of Columbia and presenting himself at a Maryland hospital. Mike Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, would not identify the hospital where the man was being treated. He said the case was formally being counted as a district case — the second — and not Maryland’s fourth.

In addition to tracking potential exposure points, officials continued to ramp up testing efforts and prepare for more cases.

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Maryland health insurance officials, for example, ordered carriers to reduce barriers and costs for residents seeking medical treatment moving forward, including by waiving costs for testing for the illness.

The order, facilitated by an emergency declaration by Hogan on Thursday, was intended to help ensure people can buy extra supplies of their prescription medications, waive out-of-pocket co-pays and deductibles for testing, and provide access to treatment that doctors deem necessary, even if providers are out-of-network.

The order applies only to plans regulated in Maryland, though state regulators are encouraging voluntary compliance for other plans. CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, the state’s dominant private health insurer and also a manager of many self-insured plans, joined other national carriers in announcing Saturday it would offer expanded access to testing and treatment to its customers.

Officials have said they wanted to ensure testing and treatment are available, and that people do not avoid care because of costs or become saddled with large bills.

The respiratory disease has sickened more than 100,000 people across the globe and killed more than 3,300. As of Saturday, a total of 44 Marylanders had been tested, with 41 negative.

On Friday, Hogan said the three Montgomery County residents who had tested positive for the virus had been on an Egyptian cruise on the Nile River. The three — a couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s — are currently isolated in their homes and their symptoms are abating, officials say.

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In addition to the three confirmed patients in the state, five of their family members have been advised to be tested, and officials continue to trace their contacts with others to determine if more people should also be tested, said Fran Phillips, deputy state health secretary for public health.

The state of emergency allows Maryland to mobilize its emergency operations center and ramp up its coordination with local and federal agencies.

The outbreak of illness has forced many changes across the region and world, including the cancellation of events.

Amtrak, which operates trains through Maryland, announced that it would do away with change fees for reservations made through April 30. Citing reduced demand, it also announced that starting Tuesday, it would suspend non-stop Acela service between New York and Washington through May 26. It expected “minimal impact to customers.”

Peoples Power Assembly called for Baltimore City government to protect those vulnerable to a COVID-19 outbreak.

Protestors in Baltimore raised concerns Saturday that those and other efforts to clear barriers to healthcare and mitigate the impacts of the spreading virus on people’s lives would not be enough. They said the disease and the potential fallout of widespread containment efforts would disproportionately impact the city’s most vulnerable residents, including those with pre-existing health conditions and low-wage jobs without paid sick leave.

“Concerns for the elderly and the poor, the homeless, prisoners and our immigrant population need to be addressed sooner rather than later,” said Sharon Black, of the People’s Power Assembly, at a rally of nearly a dozen fellow activists outside Baltimore City Hall.

The Village at Rockville said in a statement Saturday that state health officials have told them the risk of potential exposure associated with a visit by one of the infected patients — on Friday, Feb. 28 between noon and 6 p.m. — remains low, but that they were “taking the best practice in precaution" and “monitoring conditions of residents and team members who attended the event” through March 14.

“Our primary focus is to maintain our highest level of well-being for our residents and team members,” said Kyle Hrebren, executive director at The Village Rockville, which is part of the National Lutheran Communities and Services, a Rockville-based nonprofit ministry of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. “We will remain diligent in taking the necessary precautions to ensure the health and safety of our community and the greater Rockville community."

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Health officials say 70 to 100 residents, visitors and staff at the event might be at risk for contracting the coronavirus.

They are urging them to monitor themselves for symptoms, such as fever, cough or difficulty breathing, until March 13. They have also been told to take their temperature twice a day and notify their health care provider if it’s greater than 100.4 degrees or if they have other symptoms.

Individuals who attended the CPAC event were given similar advice on Saturday. State officials did not provide an estimate for how many individuals may have come into contact with the attendee who tested positive for the virus.

As of Saturday, there had been over 300 cases reported across the country and at least 17 deaths. As testing ramps up in Maryland and across the country, more cases are expected to be identified.

The state stopped listing the number of pending tests online Saturday, so it is unclear how many have been tested in the state.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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