Maryland hospitals, nursing homes limit visitors to protect people inside from coronavirus

Visitors to the University of Maryland Medical System and Johns Hopkins and LifeBridge Health hospitals will be screened and limited in an effort to keep the new coronavirus from hospitals and other health care facilities.

The broad new policies were announced Tuesday and will go into effect early Wednesday and will last until further notice. They will require everyone to check in at the front desk and will only allow one adult at a time to visit hospitalized patients, restrict those under age 18 and ban visitors who have traveled internationally in the past 14 days or anyone with flu-like symptoms.


“The coronavirus disease poses several challenges to an extended family presence at a patient’s bedside including potential spread of the virus to patients and staff by those with asymptomatic or mild infection,” said Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 Incident Commander for the 13-hospital Maryland system, in a statement.

“Enacting these changes to visitation is consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding response to the coronavirus,” said Marcozzi, also associate chair of population health in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine and assistant chief medical officer for acute care at the University of Maryland Medical Center. "These enhanced visitor limitations are designed to protect the health and safety of the public, our staff and our patients, now that there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland.”


Such limitations are sometimes used during the annual flu season to protect patients and staff, though no limits had gone into effect this year. There have been 3,350 hospitalizations for influenza reported in Maryland and 47 deaths.

The state has reported eight cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. There are about 700 cases and 25 deaths reported across the country from the virus.

Public health officials have warned that more cases are likely as testing ramps up. There are people who have self-quarantined the state, including university students.

About 80% of those with COVID-19 have mild symptoms, but 15% to 20% have more severe cases. Symptoms include fever, cough and trouble breathing.

Maryland system hospital officials said they would make exceptions to the visitor restriction in certain situation with prior approval, including for end-of-life care and parents visiting pediatric patients.

Animal therapy has been suspended due to reports of canine transmission of the coronavirus, though service animals will be permitted. Other classes and events could be canceled.

Officials urged the public to practice good hygiene habits, such as frequent hand washing, coughing into a tissue or sleeve, maintaining distance with others and avoiding shaking hands. The strategies help prevent coronavirus and flu viruses.

The policy at LifeBridge will be enforced at Sinai Hospital, Northwest Hospital, Carroll Hospital, Levindale and Grace Medical Center. Officials also said they plan to put up tents outside of emergency departments at Sinai, Northwest and Carroll should there be a need for a large area to screen and triage potentially infected people during a widespread outbreak.


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“While we hope that we will not have need for them, having these tents in place will allow our teams to respond more quickly should the need arise,” LifeBridge said in a statement.

Also Tuesday, state officials asked nursing homes and retirement communities to impose measures that Gov. Larry Hogan said is aimed at preventing an outbreak like one that has killed 19 people and sickened at least 31 at a facility in Kirkland, Washington.

The governor said older residents are most at risk, and repeated recommendations that anyone over age 60 avoid large crowds and any travel, if possible.

“We want to do everything we can do and in our power to prevent a similar outbreak in our state,” he said.

The recommendations include restricting visitor access, forbidding staff from international travel, and monitoring them if they have traveled or come into contact with anyone suspected to have the virus. The state is also urging facilities to increase availability of hand sanitizer, tissues and face masks, and to post signs urging vigilance and hygiene.

“Any staff that develop any signs or symptoms on the job should immediately stop work, put on a face mask and self-isolate at home,” Hogan said.


Baltimore Sun reporter Scott Dance contributed to this article.