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Healthcare coverage from WYPR is made possible by support from GBMC HealthCare.

Maryland breaks COVID-19 hospitalization record

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Credit: TMAXIMUMGE/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Maryland set a pandemic record Wednesday with 2,046 residents hospitalized for COVID-19, state health officials reported.

Previously, the highest number of hospitalizations at a given time was 1,952, on Jan. 11, 2021.

State health officials warned earlier this month that hospitalizations could soon surpass 2,000. On Dec. 9, the number topped 1,000 and just days before Christmas it went over 1,500.

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement Wednesday that unvaccinated people are primarily driving the surge.

“It cannot be stressed enough that getting vaccinated and getting boosted are your strongest possible defenses against this virus and its variants,” he said.

Four hospitals, including the University of Maryland Harford Memorial Hospital in Havre de Grace and the University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Medical Center in Bel Air shifted to “crisis standards of care” over the past week.

That means cutting back on services and prioritizing care for patients according to need. Facilities may also have to seek outside help to get care for all patients.

Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association (MHA) said this is the first time during the pandemic that Maryland hospitals have had to resort to crisis standards.

“It's not the predominant state of affairs in all of our hospitals, but we have a number of hospitals that foresee reaching that point very soon,” Atlas said. “We have a real workforce shortage in our hospitals that makes these figures really hard to handle.”

Since the last winter surge, he said hospital staff have “increasingly depleted.”

For most of the pandemic, Hogan had a catastrophic health emergency declaration in place. It expired this summer.

Atlas called on the governor Tuesday to reimplement some of the emergency provisions, including allowing hospitals to hire retired healthcare professionals as well as those with expired licenses.

MHA also issued a press release Wednesday calling on the governor to implement a “limited public health emergency.”

“What we need is recognition at the highest levels that our hospitals are in dire conditions,” Atlas said. “We do appreciate that the governor has offered financial support and the National Guard to help operate COVID testing sites.”

Hogan spokesperson Mike Ricci wrote in an email to WYPR that the state has been preparing emergency regulations to address the staffing shortage, including allowing temporary licensing for retired healthcare professionals. Those regulations are set to take effect in early January.

In his statement Wednesday the governor wrote that his office has “worked closely with licensing boards to augment the healthcare workforce.”

“Whatever resources hospital systems have requested, we are providing,” he said.