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Maryland tests three new patients for possible cases of coronavirus; Gov. Hogan says he’ll request $10M for preparedness

Gov. Larry Hogan updates Marylanders on how the COVID-19 virus may affect the state.

Three more Marylanders are being tested for the coronavirus that has sickened more than 80,000 people globally, state officials confirmed this week.

Officials expect results in the next two or three days from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, where the samples were sent. The state lab does not yet have the ability to test more quickly here, but officials say they might gain kits and approvals as early as next week.

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The criteria for testing generally have included travel to infected countries or close contact with an infected person.

Two others in the state have tested negative since the outbreak of the virus, called COVID-19, began earlier this year.

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"I want to assure Marylanders that the state is taking every precaution when it comes to coronavirus,” Gov. Larry Hogan said during a news conference at the state’s emergency operations center in Reisterstown on Thursday. “Our highest priority is to keep citizens safe.”

Hogan outlined the state’s preparedness during the conference, which followed a cabinet meeting on the virus. He also said he’d be submitting a supplemental budget request for $10 million for the effort.

The governor said he’d be briefing other state leaders tomorrow and continues to be in contact with federal health authorities and Vice President Mike Pence, whom President Donald Trump put in charge of the nation’s coronavirus response Wednesday.

For now, Hogan said, the risk remains low.

He asked Marylanders not to panic but to be prepared for more infections, school closures and event cancellations and to work from home as conditions change. This echoes advice CDC officials gave to all Americans on Tuesday. Officials said they expected more cases in the United States, though a day later Trump sought to downplay the threat somewhat.

The CDC said there are 60 cases of the coronavirus in several states across the country, including one person in California who did not travel or knowingly come in contact with someone infected. That is what’s known as community spread and is concerning to public health officials.

The uncertainty from the virus has caused the stock market to drop more than 10 percent this week. It’s also caused a run on supplies such as face masks, alarming public health officials who fear needed supplies will be limited for hospitals and other medical providers. Authorities also say the masks are unlikely to provide much protection. Their main benefit is to keep infected people from passing the virus to others.

About 80 percent of people infected with the virus around the world have had mild respiratory symptoms. Among those who become far sicker about 2% to 4% have died. Most of the fatalities have been older people.

Efforts to create a vaccine are underway but not expected to be available until at least next year. A therapy may be available sooner, federal authorities have said.

Lawmakers in Washington are seeking more funding than the $2.5 billion sought by Trump to prepare, a move he said he would not oppose.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger, a Maryland Democrat and member of the House Appropriations Committee, said Thursday that he is calling for $4 billion or more to be used exclusively for coronavirus and fighting infectious disease. That includes development of a vaccine, interest-free loans for small businesses affected by an outbreak, and reimbursement to state and local governments for their spending on an outbreak.

“We need to make sure our public health experts and medical professionals are informing and planning our country’s response to the coronavirus outbreak — not politicians,” Ruppersberger said in a statement. “Historically, our country has come together not as Democrats and Republicans, but as Americans, to address pandemics like this. This is no time for the chest-thumping and finger-pointing we have seen in recent days.”

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Specifically regarding the small businesses, Maryland Democrat Sen. Ben Cardin and Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio sent a letter to Jovita Carranza, administrator of the U.S. Small Business Administration, requesting information about how the agency intends to administer aid.

The senators, the chair and ranking member on the Senate Committee on Small Business & Entrepreneurship, said 30 million small businesses could potentially be disrupted by the virus.

“As the situation continues to evolve, it is becoming clear that the threat of widespread transmission of COVID-19 could have severe economic impacts on small businesses and the U.S. economy as a whole,” the senators wrote. “For this reason, we urge you to take immediate action to ensure that small businesses and their employees are equipped to prepare for, and respond to, the anticipated spread of COVID-19 in order to reduce both short-term and long-term disruptions.”

Back in Maryland, state leaders from agencies focused on health, education, emergency management, transportation, aging, budget and law enforcement have been meeting regularly to formulate plans in case the conditions worsen in the state. They are coordinating with local health departments, hospitals and schools, which have their own plans.

Fran Phillips, deputy secretary for public health services, said the coordination will continue. She also said residents of the state should take the same precautions they take to ward off the flu virus that is currently circulating. The flu virus has led to 3,000 hospitalizations and 40 deaths in the state.

Those precautions include frequent hand washing, coughing into a tissue and staying home when sick.

Also on Thursday, the Port of Baltimore said authorities have implemented procedures to ensure that crew members have not been sick in the past two weeks. Cruise ship companies have instituted screening measures for passengers and won’t allow anyone onto the ships who have visited areas affected by the coronavirus or come into contact with others who have been to those areas in the past two weeks.

At the University of Maryland, a study-abroad program in South Korea has been suspended and students have been told to return home, reflecting recent changes in the CDC guidance. Study-abroad programs in China already had been canceled.

The university has told students in Japan and Italy to be prepared to leave if the coronavirus becomes more prevalent in those countries. It also advised students on other study-abroad programs to limit their travel.

Baltimore Sun reporters Liz Bowie and Lillian Reed contributed to this article.

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