State health officials have confirmed Maryland’s first cases of the coronavirus disease COVID-19 affecting three residents of Montgomery County.
The three were infected during an international cruise. Officials have not specified where that was, citing privacy reasons. But Dr. Travis Gayles, the chief health officer for Montgomery County, said in a news conference Friday the cruise was “not affiliated with Baltimore.”
Two of those infected are a husband and wife in their 70s; the third is a woman in her 50s who had traveled with them. All three are in isolation in their homes with symptoms that were not severe and are now declining, officials said.
Gayles said the patients “are doing well clinically and for the most part their symptoms have abated.”
Meanwhile, he said, the state health department is developing a “ring of contacts” for the patients since they returned to Maryland Feb. 20 to determine how COVID-19 may have spread and to ensure anyone who may have come in contact with them is tested.
Governor Larry Hogan announced the three cases in a news conference Thursday night as he declared a state of emergency in Maryland. Earlier in the day he asked the General Assembly for $10 million in emergency corona virus funding as part of his supplemental budget.
He said in a statement his top priority is “keeping our residents safe” and that Marylanders should be assured that the state’s preparations are built on “decades of planning, experience and expertise gained from previous and ongoing public health events.”
Thursday night he said there is “not a reason to panic," and that "Marylanders should go to work or go to school as they normally do.”
Hogan’s state of emergency declaration allows Maryland health officials to “ramp up coordination” among federal and state agencies. Hogan also activated Maryland’s emergency operations center to support the statewide response.
Health officials said the travelers tested positive this week for COVID-19, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expanded the criteria for testing for the virus to include those who had recently visited Italy, South Korea and Iran in a Friday news conference.
Officials have not said what hospitals received the patients or where else they may have gone throughout Maryland after returning from their cruise.
COVID-19 is a respiratory disease caused by a strain of coronavirus first identified in China in December. It has sickened at least 100,000 across the world and killed more than 3,000. Cases have spread to countries throughout the world and throughout 22 states, including Washington, Colorado and Pennsylvania.
Most of the confirmed cases in the U.S. have been from people who have traveled to countries that have reported COVID-19. There have been some instances of what is called community spread, meaning people have been infected without knowing how or where.
“Life does not need to be radically altered, but we need to have a high level of awareness of what’s going on around us,” Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said Friday morning.
He acknowledged that as of yet there is no COVID-19 vaccine or a cure. And he encouraged residents to stock up on two weeks’ worth of food and necessities as a precaution.
Montgomery County’s health department issued the following guidelines on its website.
- Stay away from people who are sick. If you are sick, stay home from work and school.
- Do not travel if you are sick.
- Wash your hands, wash your hands, wash your hands. Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds is the best way to prevent the spread of this virus and many other illnesses.
- Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
- Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve when coughing or sneezing.
Earlier this week, Baltimore Mayor Jack Young said that the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management would continue working with the Baltimore City Health Department and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to provide resources as the need arises.
The city is maintaining a website dedicated to updates and guidance about the virus.
Baltimore County officials said Friday they were bolstering preparations for COVID-19.
“Baltimore County is actively working across agencies and with our state partners to coordinate information and prepare for the COVID-19 virus,” County Executive Johnny Olszewski said in a statement. “We have brought agency leaders together, will continue public health preparedness efforts, and remain vigilant to ensure we are ready for any scenario.”
Misinformation can be as contagious and harmful as a virus, Dr. Gregory Branch, the Baltimore County Health Officer said in a joint statement with Olszewski.
Branch encouraged residents to use credible sources such as the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Maryland’s state and local health departments for accurate and up-to-date information.
For state and national updates, visit the Maryland Department of Health’s website.
Read the answers to frequently asked questions about COVID-19 here.