BERLIN – As the nation enters its third calendar year of the pandemic, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan this week announced a new state of emergency and a series of executive orders aimed at addressing the COVID-19 surge.
In a press conference held Monday, Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency to combat the current COVID-19 surge and announced the enactment of two executive orders addressing staffing shortages and overwhelmed health care facilities across the state.
“All of the emergency actions we are taking today are to keep our hospitals from overflowing, keep our kids in school and to keep Maryland open for business,” he said. “And we will continue to take whatever actions are necessary in the very difficult days and weeks ahead.”
Monday’s announcement came as the state reported a record-high 3,057 COVID-19 hospitalizations, representing a 500% increase in the last seven weeks.
“From day one of this crisis I have told it to you straight, so the truth is the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging time of the entire pandemic,” Hogan said. “Our newest projections, as of today, show that COVID hospitalizations could reach more than 5,000, which would be more than 250% higher than our previous peak of 1,952 last year. While we were hoping for the best, we are actively preparing for the worst.”
Hogan noted this week that recent COVID-19 hospitalizations are overwhelming hospital operations around the state. To that end, he announced the enactment of two executive orders, the first of which authorizes the Maryland health secretary to regulate hospital personnel, bed space and supplies and to direct and expedite the transfer of patients between facilities as necessary.
“The executive order allows interstate reciprocity for health care licenses, it allows inactive health care practitioners to practice without needing to reinstate their expired licenses, it authorizes graduate nurses to work at any health care facility to provide full nursing services, and the order allows health care practitioners to practice outside the scope of their licenses,” Hogan said. “The executive order also authorizes the health department to regulate elective medical procedures as necessary, and to issue directives to control and monitor COVID-19 in nursing homes and similar congregate care facilities.”
The second executive order, Hogan announced, authorizes additional steps to augment the state’s EMS workforce.
“Today, at my direction, we are mobilizing 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to assist state and local health officials with the state’s emergency pandemic response,” he said. “Approximately 250 members of the Guard will be deployed to support COVID-19 testing sites across the state, including at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, and to assist with patient transport as needed.”
In response to the surge, Hogan said the state will be opening 20 new hospital-adjacent testing sites across the state to divert people away from hospital emergency rooms. He also called on the federal government to increase the distribution of monoclonal antibodies and expedite the production of COVID-19 antiviral pills and rapid tests.
“We are working on emergency procurements to acquire as many more as we possibly can but there is a serious national shortage, and the federal government needs to immediately expedite the approval of additional rapid test and to push increased production and distribution to the states,” he said.
At the state level, Hogan said the administration has committed $100 million in emergency funding, with $50 million dedicated to stabilizing hospital workforce and staffing needs and $50 million dedicated to expanding the availability of COVID-19 testing, treatments and vaccines. He also announced a mask mandate in state buildings and two hours paid leave for state employees to get the vaccine or booster shot.
“We are urging other employers across the state to follow our lead by providing leave for vaccinations and boosters, and by strongly encouraging the wearing of masks and face coverings indoors,” he said.
Lastly, Hogan encouraged residents to avoid crowds, wash their hands and get the vaccine.
“As I have been repeatedly saying over and over again, the single most important thing you can do to protect yourself, your family and your fellow members from this virus and its variants is to get fully vaccinated and to get a booster shot,” he said. “Throughout 2021, nearly 75% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 in Maryland were people who had not been fully vaccinated. Nearly 85% of all our COVID hospitalizations for the entire year were people who were not fully vaccinated, and more than 84% of the more than 4,700 additional Marylanders who have died from COVID-19 last year were not fully vaccinated.”
Hogan added that 33% of children ages 5-11 have been vaccinated.
“We all want to keep our schools safely open because there’s absolutely no substitute for in-person learning,” he said. “One of the best ways to do that is to get more of our school age children vaccinated as soon as possible.”
Local Hospitals Reporting Surge
As the Delta and Omicron variants continue to spread, local hospital systems took to social media this week to remind community members that emergency departments are for medical emergencies.
“As COVID-19 numbers rise again, our Emergency Department is receiving an increased number of patients,” a Facebook post from TidalHealth reads. “Emergency departments are for real medical emergencies, accidents and trauma care. We need all our emergency workers team to be prepared and prepared to help community members who show up with real emergencies. TidalHealth is not offering COVID-19 diagnostic tests neither by appointment nor outpatient in any of the emergency rooms inside its hospitals.”
A post from Atlantic General Hospital adds, “We would like to provide a reminder that our Emergency Department does not provide COVID-19 tests for asymptomatic individuals. If you are asymptomatic, please contact your primary care provider for a COVID-19 test. If you are experiencing shortness of breath or other symptoms of severe COVID-19, please go to the Emergency Room immediately.”