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With “Clear” First Evidence Of Community Transmission In Baltimore, Officials Say "Stay Home"

Emily Sullivan/WYPR

There are five cases of the novel coronavirus and the first evidence of community transmission in Baltimore, city officials said Wednesday. 

“Baltimore is moving to a new phase of response,” said Mayor Jack Young, who announced during a news conference he was placing the city under a state of emergency.  

The city’s emergency operations plan has been in effect since last week. The emergency declaration allows the mayor to may make certain purchases, called procurements, on an emergency basis to use in efforts to the pandemic.

Those procurements can include buying supplies such as food and or paying for shelter for homeless people who may have been exposed to coronavirus, said acting city solicitor Dana Moore.

City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said the five confirmed patients are two older people in their 60s and 70s, as well as three people in their 20s.

“It’s clear that there’s been community transmission,” said Dzirasa, who declined to provide specifics, citing privacy reasons. She said all are in stable or good condition.

"Social distancing is paramount for protecting the health of our most vulnerable residents."

Per U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, the city and state health departments work to establish a ring of contacts for those infected with coronavirus, in order to track and potentially stop the spread of the disease. 

Dzirasa and Young both emphasized the importance of social distancing, handwashing and other measures officially recommended by the CDC.

“I cannot stress enough the importance of social distancing,” Dzirasa said. “Social distancing is paramount for protecting the health of our most vulnerable residents. … Everyone in our community can take this time to decrease the number of people who become ill.”

Experts say that social distancing -- that is, the practice of reducing close contact between people, such as skipping group gatherings and avoiding public places -- can flatten the curve of transmission and prevent a surge in coronavirus cases that would otherwise overwhelm healthcare systems.

Even if someone is not experiencing coronavirus symptoms, they may carry the virus and inadvertently spread it to others who may become gravely ill.

“The best thing Baltimoreans can do today is stay home,” Young said.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.
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