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Maryland sees spike of 1,100 new coronavirus cases, but most hospitals aren’t yet at capacity

Maryland saw its largest daily spike in new coronavirus cases Wednesday with more than 1,000 new confirmed cases announced, as the state’s hospitals brace for a rush of patients.

The state announced an additional 1,158 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, bringing the total to at least 5,529 cases overall. The increase came after two consecutive days in which the number of new cases had been leveling off.

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There have been 124 deaths in Maryland from the virus, an increase of 21 from the total announced the day before.

In a statement, Gov. Larry Hogan said 30% of the confirmed cases added Wednesday were for tests performed in March, attributing the increase in part to an uptick in testing volume and the process of commercial labs clearing their backlogs of tests.

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“This virus continues to spread in every jurisdiction, and as I have been saying for weeks, the Baltimore-Washington corridor has become an emerging hotspot,” Hogan said. "An increase in new infections is just one of the reasons for today’s significant jump in new cases. This is also due to our ongoing efforts to ramp up testing in Maryland, with more private labs coming onboard and the expansion of commercial lab capacity.

“I want to once again remind all Marylanders to continue to stay home and stay informed. We are all in this together, and we will get through this together.”

Pinar Keskinocak, the president of Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences in Catonsville and a professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology who specializes in infectious disease modeling, said in an email that spikes such as the one Maryland saw Wednesday are partially the result of a nationwide delay and deficit in testing.

“The number of daily confirmed cases are likely to be severely below the actual number of infections,” Keskinocak said. “The daily variations — including dip and spikes — in the number of confirmed cases might be in part due to under-reporting and delays, or changes in social interactions, with the effects of these changes being reflected in the confirmed case numbers several days or weeks later.”

As cases mount, the state’s hospitals are also preparing to handle more patients. An additional 104 hospitalizations because of the coronavirus were announced Wednesday, an uptick of nearly 10%. While 1,210 Marylanders in all have been hospitalized, 365 have been released from isolation.

Bob Atlas, CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said the 26.5% jump in confirmed cases in the last 24 hours is “concerning” but hospitals remain able to handle the cases.

“It may be what we’re seeing is better testing, more so than an actual change in the trajectory of the disease,” he said. “But we don’t know so we have to operate very conservatively. We have to assume the surge is becoming evident.”

He cautioned against inferring much from a single day’s data because the number of new cases has jumped around some. Wednesday’s 1,158 additional cases are more than double the state’s previous single-day high for new cases and more than triple the 326 cases added Tuesday. The state also announced 5,677 new negative tests Wednesday, its most single-day negative test results since the state began reporting those numbers March 28.

It will take a while to understand when the cases have peaked, which means new cases will begin to drop.

"We can’t determine a trend from a single day,” Atlas said.

He said the University of Maryland Medical System, MedStar Health, LifeBridge Health and Johns Hopkins Medicine are all coordinating patients within their systems, as well as with state health and emergency management officials. That will help keep hospitals, including those closer to Washington, from becoming overloaded.

However, hospitals across the state are ramping up capacity within their walls and inside about 100 specialized tents that are on their way to the state. They are separate from triage tents that are serving people who arrive at the hospitals for care. There also are two new hospital facilities in the works to accommodate hundreds of patients, one inside the Baltimore Convention Center and another at a shuttered hospital in Laurel.

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“We are getting close to full capacity, if you consider what’s normal capacity, in a couple of places,” Atlas said. “But they are not overflowing yet. ... So it’s not the level of infection that leads to the kinds of news stories you see in New York. We hope not to get there.”

During a Zoom presentation to members of the Greater Baltimore Committee on Wednesday, the president of the Johns Hopkins Health System said Hopkins has confirmed 1,048 cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic, with 186 patients in the hospital system as of Wednesday morning.

Of those, 20% percent are on ventilators, which Kevin Sowers called a typical statistic in the U.S. and elsewhere.

But “we have not met our surge,” he told the business organization.

As the hospital attempts to create surge capacity and support social distancing, outpatient visits are down by 60%, Sowers said, with strict visitation policies put in place. Telemedicine visits have ballooned from eight patients a day to more than 1,200.

“Out of something really horrific that is happening in our world, this will also force us to look at ways that we can change and become better at delivering health care services to our communities” in the future, Sowers said.

Dr. Brian Garibaldi, director of the Johns Hopkins Biocontainment Unit, said the hospital was taking some of the sickest patients from the more heavily hit Washington suburbs.

The hospital has added multiple ICU units to treat COVID-19 patients and has staff that has trained for years for such a pandemic. Garibaldi said there have been about 100 ICU patients in recent weeks with close to 40 now. Many more are being treated outside of the ICUs.

“We’re not overwhelmed," Garibaldi said, "but we certainly are very, very busy and it’s no longer business as usual.”

Baltimore Sun reporter Lorraine Mirabella contributed to this article.

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