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To prepare for possible spread of coronavirus, Howard County officials will participate in simulated exercise

County Executive Calvin Ball joins other Howard County officials for a press conference Wednesday to discuss the nationwide spread of the coronavirus.
County Executive Calvin Ball joins other Howard County officials for a press conference Wednesday to discuss the nationwide spread of the coronavirus. (Ana Faguy)

Howard County government officials held a news conference Tuesday to discuss the county’s plan to address the new coronavirus.

While County Executive Calvin Ball said there were no confirmed cases in the county or state, county officials on Friday will participate in a tabletop exercise — an activity for key personnel to simulate an emergency situation — for how to handle the virus if it should hit Howard County.

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“I’d like to reassure all of our Howard County residents and visitors that we are prepared to respond,” Ball said.

Maura Rossman, Howard’s County’s health officer, said none of the 11 cases pending testing at the state level are Howard County residents.

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“In Howard County we are still in the containment phase of the coronavirus,” Rossman said. “The immediate risk remains low.”

As of Wednesday, there were more than 100 cases across the United States scattered across at least 15 states, with 27 cases in Washington state alone. There have been nine deaths, all in that state.

Rossman suggested Howard County residents begin to make plans in case the virus continues to spread; plans should consider how residents would self-contain and how they could continue to care for family, neighbors and friends.

“This is not a time to panic. This is a situation that we feel we have under control and we are managing,” said Mohammed Shafeeq Ahmed, chief medical officer of Howard County General Hospital. “Although it is rapidly evolving, I want you to be reassured that the hospital is making plans and has plans in place for an event where we are taking care of patients with coronavirus.”

Acting Fire Chief Bill Anuszewski was among county officials at the conference and announced there will be additional screening questions that 911 operators will ask callers with influenza-type symptoms.

Operators will now ask Howard County residents if they’ve traveled to affected areas, if they’ve been exposed to someone who has a known case and if they’re running a fever.

The county also said residents can call a hotline at 410-313-6284 to respond to any coronavirus questions.

The Howard County Public School System sent out a districtwide email Tuesday afternoon to say how it is preparing for coronavirus.

Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano wrote he is being “asked more and more” about how the school system is preparing for the possibility of confirmed coronavirus cases in Howard County and the state.

The school system is in phase one of its comprehensive emergency operations plan that was developed with the Howard County Health Department and the Office of Emergency Management. Phase one is “where the county is deemed to be a relatively low risk of a pandemic disease,” according to the email.

In phase one, the school system provides information, monitors the health of students and staff, and assesses field trips on a daily basis and community use of school facilities.

“The primary factor that influences this decision is the location of the field trip and whether that area has a locally declared health emergency,” the email states.

On the school system’s website, there is a page dedicated to information and updates about the coronavirus.

School nurses and health staff are focused on helping students take preventive measures, including hand-washing, using hand sanitizer and identifying students who may be sick with a virus. The school system is purchasing hand sanitizer refills to keep all schools stocked.

The email mentions potential school closings that could be “deemed necessary to protect the safety of our students and staff.”

Martirano wrote there have been instances where Howard schools have closed for several days and the school system worked with county and state partners to ensure state education department requirements were met during that time.

Earlier this week, the Howard County Health Department announced a series of free community presentations to provide more information on coronavirus.

According to the health department, the presentations will inform Howard residents about current developments, local planning efforts and preventive actions.

The presentations are scheduled for:

  • 7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday at East Columbia Branch library, 6600 Cradlerock Way;
  • 2 to 3 p.m. Thursday at Elkridge Branch library, 6540 Washington Blvd.;
  • 2 to 3 p.m. Tuesday at Miller Branch library, 9421 Frederick Road in Ellicott City.

The first library presentation on Wednesday will be livestreamed via Facebook and posted on YouTube afterward. Space will be limited for people who want to attend in person, so residents are encouraged to view the livestream or YouTube video.

Those interested in attending a presentation in person must register ahead of time. To register, go to hclibrary.org/classes-events and then search “Protecting You and Your Families” to find the specific presentation.

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