Gov. Larry Hogan has created a Coronavirus response team, made up of public health and emergency management experts, he announced at a press conference Monday. The group will meet for the first time Tuesday.
The new response team will advise state officials as they deal with the rapidly spreading disease.
“While we’re looking to get input from the federal, state and local government, we also want the best medical advice we can get, and so we brought the smartest people we could find into the room,” Hogan said.
On Monday afternoon, Hogan, House Speaker Adrienne Jones and Senate President Bill Ferguson signed legislation authorizing the use of up to $50 million from the state’s “Rainy Day Fund” to address the rapidly spreading coronavirus. The bill takes effect immediately.
Jones and Ferguson also announced a new bill, to be introduced during Monday’s evening floor sessions. Sponsored by Sen. Clarence Lam, a physician who specializes in public health, the bill would require health insurers to cover the cost of a vaccine for the new virus, once it exists. It would also make it easier for Marylanders to take advantage of telehealth services, and for residents without insurance, the bill says the state would cover the cost for disease testing and a future vaccine. And the bill prevents retailers from significantly raising the price of things like food, medicine, cleaning supplies, water and fuel.
At the press conference, the elected leaders emphasized that they are putting aside political differences to work collaboratively to combat the epidemic.
“In times where it’s quite anxious and difficult and fearful, it’s very easy to drop into a tribal mentality, a fear of the other,” said Ferguson. “This is the time like none other, in Maryland, a place with some of the best global resources on these issues, that we have to be with one another, united, standing firm, and acting in a smart fashion to make sure that every member of our community feels comfortable, protected, and that we are doing things that are reasonable to protect Maryland’s future.”
Hogan is issuing guidance to state employees to cancel all out-of-state travel and advising all agencies to prepare for “a period of mandatory telework,” he said.
And state officials are advising anyone age 60 or older to stay home as much as possible and avoid large crowds. This age group is more susceptible to the illness, Hogan said.
Nursing homes should closely monitor residents and employees for symptoms of the virus, he said.
But on the bright side, children and young adults appear to be less susceptible to COVID-19 than they are even to the typical flu, Hogan said.
State officials have so far confirmed five cases of the novel Coronavirus in Maryland residents.
The latest two were identified Sunday. A man in his 60s from Montgomery County contracted the virus while traveling to Thailand and Egypt, and a woman in her 80s from Harford County became infected while traveling to Turkey. Hogan said the latter appears to be the first known case worldwide linking the illness to travel to Turkey.
Hogan said state health officials do not believe either of these cases poses a significant risk to the community.
These and the three previously identified COVID-19 cases in Maryland stem from foreign travel. There are so far no signs of community-spread infections.
However, the first three cases originated on an Egyptian cruise. Hogan said officials learned Monday of six more Maryland residents who traveled on the same cruise ship but on different dates. Of those, two are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19. All six are in quarantine and will be tested for the virus.
State officials also learned from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that there are 12 Maryland residents on the Grand Princess cruise ship, which docked in Oakland, California, on Monday, and which had at least 21 confirmed cases of coronavirus. Those residents are being transported with other passengers to military bases in Texas and Georgia to be quarantined.
“This problem continues to escalate rapidly,” Hogan said. “Information is changing not only on a daily basis but on an hourly, almost minute-to-minute basis.”
Anyone seeking more information should call 2-1-1 or visit coronavirus.gov or health.maryland.gov/coronavirus.