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Maryland officials say next 48 hours ‘critical’ in pandemic’s evolution

Howard County and Loyola University Maryland reported their first cases of the new coronavirus, statewide numbers continued to climb and casinos, racetracks and even a local mall were ordered closed Sunday as officials let the public know that business as usual was no longer an option.

The actions were part of a dizzying day of updates and edicts as the total number of confirmed cases in Maryland rose to at least 32, six more than a day earlier. Since there have been five more cases confirmed in the state.

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Across the state, officials from multiple agencies worked to stem the dangerous virus that’s spreading at an increasingly alarming pace.

“The next 36 to 48 hours are going to be critical in where we are," Webster Ye, director of government affairs for the Maryland Department of Health, told state senators in a Sunday morning briefing. “We previously were trying to contain the spread of coronavirus, and now we are in mitigation."

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Gov. Larry Hogan issued a forceful reminder to bar owners ahead of St. Patrick’s Day that large gatherings were outlawed and violators would be punished. The state banned gatherings of more than 250 people Thursday in response to the first case of the virus spreading in the community instead of occurring in someone who traveled.

“Anyone who hosts or is part of the crowds in bars this weekend is jeopardizing the health of others and must avoid any contact with family members or friends over the age of 60 or those with underlying health conditions,” Hogan’s office said, first in a tweet and then in a full written statement.

Hours later, eight Fells Point bars, including Max’s Taphouse, Kooper’s Tavern, Slainte Irish Pub and Restaurant, The Admiral’s Cup and The Horse You Came In On Saloon, announced they would shut their doors after Sunday out of an abundance out caution due to the coronavirus.

Hogan and his team followed that with the order to close the state’s gambling attractions, effective at midnight. The casinos, which now face fines if they remain open, attempted to head off such steps Saturday by announcing plans to reduce their capacity by 50%. The casinos could not be reached for comment.

By the end of the day, the General Assembly announced that it would end its session Wednesday because of the coronavirus, the first time the state legislature has ended early since the Civil War. A special session has been called for May.

The actions come as the Maryland Health Department reported that there are now 31 confirmed cases of coronavirus statewide, which is up five from Saturday. The state’s numbers did not include the Howard County case, which county health officials announced in the afternoon.

The state offered no details about the five new cases, other than what counties they occurred in.

Howard County officials said the patient there is an 82-year-old woman with an underlying health condition who is being treated at a hospital. Six members of the Howard County fire department came in contact with the woman and are "self-quarantining and are in relatively good spirits considering the circumstances,” said acting Fire Chief Bill Anuszewski.

Lorien Health Services said Sunday night that the woman lives at its Elkridge facility.

At the news conference announcing the woman’s illness, County Executive Calvin Ball also said he has declared a state of emergency and that The Mall in Columbia and other commercial gathering places will be closed for at least a week.

Additional steps included closing the shops at Savage Mill and closing the county’s movie theaters beginning Sunday at midnight for at least seven days.

“The next 36 to 48 hours are going to be critical in where we are. We previously were trying to contain the spread of coronavirus, and now we are in mitigation.”


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On late Sunday afternoon, Loyola University announced that one of its students has tested positive for COVID-19 and that another student is awaiting test results. Both students, who have not been on campus since exhibiting symptoms, are recovering well at home, the school’s president, the Rev. Brian F. Linnane, said in a news release.

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It’s not clear whether that case has been counted by the state or even whether the student is a state resident.

As of Sunday morning, the state said, there were 12 cases in Montgomery County; nine in Prince George’s County; three in Baltimore County; two each in Harford and Anne Arundel counties; and one each in Baltimore City, Carroll County and Charles County.

Additionally, the state’s health department upgraded its dedicated coronavirus webpage with an interactive map showing confirmed cases by county. The map can be seen at coronavirus.maryland.gov.

The map and frequent updates from state government are part of a concerted effort to keep the public informed about the spread of the disease, officials said.

Mike Ricci, communications director for Hogan, said late Sunday afternoon that the state’s numbers are updated only in the morning, so that cases confirmed later in the day, such as the Howard County diagnosis, are not counted right away.

Ricci said on Twitter, “a rapidly evolving situation demands rapidly evolving communications, so we are continuing to make updates and add information to this page.”

The updates come as health care providers struggle to get a handle on the virus, which has sickened more than 162,000 worldwide and killed more than 6,000. The United States has more than 3,200 confirmed cases and 62 deaths have been reported.

Many more cases are likely given the virus is spreading in the community and about 80 percent of the cases are mild. Symptoms include fever, a dry cough and trouble breathing, and the illness known as COVID-19 can progress into pneumonia.

The state health department’s Ye did offer state senators a glimmer of encouraging news during his briefing, telling them that private testing labs are playing a greater role in detecting cases of the virus. Four of the five new diagnoses came from private labs.

The state’s public health lab in Baltimore has capacity for 2,000 tests and is doing about 150 a day. Private labs, including at Johns Hopkins Hospital, are ramping up their capacity for testing, Ye said.

“We’re doing everything we can to expand testing right now" Ye said. “The issues with testing availability is not because there are not enough tests, it’s because there’s a shortage of the secure transport materials that are needed to take the tests to the labs.”

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As soon as the “supply situation is resolved,” the state is going to work with the four counties hardest hit by the outbreak and establish drive-through testing stations, Ye said. Patients still will need a referral from their physician.

“The average citizen can’t drive up and say, ‘Hey, give me a cotton swab," Ye told lawmakers.

Those who believe they are infected are asked to call their doctor or the local health department for guidance rather than showing up at an emergency room, urgent care or their doctor’s office.

Ye also said there’s a continuing shortage of protective face masks for medical providers, and the state hopes the federal government will release more protective equipment from a national strategic stockpile.

Baltimore Sun reporters Frederick N. Rasmussen, Ana Faguy and McKenna Oxenden contributed to this article.

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