The circle of impact of Maryland coronavirus cases continues to grow as the Maryland Department of Health and the General Assembly brace for the inevitable increase in cases.
“I want to continue to assure Marylanders that our state is taking every precaution when it comes to the coronavirus, and our highest priority is keeping our residents safe,” Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr (R) said at a Friday evening news conference.
Hogan announced a state of emergency Thursday evening after confirming three cases in the state.
An ongoing investigation has found that all three confirmed patients in Montgomery County contracted the virus on the MS Asara Egyptian cruise ship that toured the Nile River.
Hogan stated this Maryland outbreak seems to be related to six confirmed cases in Texas but clarified that these instances are not linked to the cruise ship currently being quarantined off the coast of California.
Hogan laid out a timeline of events starting from the collective patient zero disembark of the cruise ship on Feb. 20, calling two instances of public interaction “concerning.”
One of the three infected individuals traveled to the Philadelphia area, coming into contact with school employees and students.
Upon the disclosure of this information, officials in Bucks County, Pa., decided Friday to close five local schools.
The second incident of concern occurred on Feb. 28 at an event held at The Village at Rockville retirement community in Rockville, where it’s estimated that another diagnosed individual came into contact with between 70 and 100 residents, visitors and staff members.
Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of the Maryland Department of Health, said that anyone found to have had direct contact with these people will be tested, including five of their family members.
Hogan said officials are imploring anyone who may have attended the event to seek medical attention and that the administration is releasing this information not as a scare tactic, but for the sake of transparency.
“We are committed to doing everything in our power to contain this virus and to limit its spread in our state,” he said.
State officials are taking preventative measures to reduce the impact of the virus in the state.
On Tuesday, the Center for Disease Control approved Maryland to begin its own lab testing in Baltimore.
Phillips said that the newly implemented Maryland State Public Health Lab has over 1,000 test kits available, and officials are expecting more to arrive from the CDC Monday. She added that two large commercial national laboratories will be approved to commence testing next week.
On Wednesday, Hogan introduced emergency legislation to provide an extra $50 million for COVID-19 response, to be pulled from the state’s rainy day fund. The legislation was passed in a hustle through both the House and Senate Friday, seeing unanimous votes in both chambers.
Earlier in the week, the governor also proposed a supplemental budget, which, if adopted, would allot $10 million for coronavirus preparedness.
Hogan said Friday that he has directed the Maryland Insurance Commissioner to instruct insurance carriers to waive health care costs and authorization request wait times related to testing for COVID-19.
“It is critical that anyone who is experiencing symptoms and meets the criteria for testing is able to do so right away without having any concerns whatsoever about the costs associated with it,” he said.
According to a news release from the Maryland Insurance Commission, time restrictions on prescription refills for treatment of the virus will be removed as well.
Currently, there are 374 people being monitored for indirect contact as of Friday evening, all of which are asymptomatic.
Maryland has tested 44 individuals for the coronavirus. Of those tests, three were positive, 33 were negative and the results of the remaining eight are still pending.
By Hannah Gaskill