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Hogan declares COVID emergency

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Credit: TMAXIMUMGE/PUBLIC DOMAIN

Gov. Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency Tuesday as part of an effort to combat the surge of coronavirus infections that is overwhelming Maryland’s hospitals.

In addition, he issued executive orders to give state health officials more power to deal with the crisis.

They allow state health secretary Dennis Schrader to regulate hospital personnel, beds and supplies and to order the transfer of patients between hospitals to meet needs. They also give the state health department the authority to establish alternate care facilities to ease the crush at hospitals and nursing homes and allow health care practitioners with licenses in other states to practice in Maryland.

“While we can't manufacture doctors and nurses who don't exist, we have continued to do everything we possibly can do at the state level in order to help our hospitals withstand this surge and to save lives,” Hogan said in a news conference at a state facility in Hanover.

In addition, he said he is mobilizing 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to help state and local health officials with their response to the pandemic.

“Approximately 250 members of the guard will be deployed to support COVID-19 testing sites across the state,” Hogan said, “including at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities and to assist with patient transport as needed.”

Others will be assigned to help at 20 new testing sites to be set up outside hospitals throughout the state to meet the sharply increasing demand for tests and to divert people from going to emergency rooms to get tests.

Gen. Tim Gowen, adjutant general of the Maryland National Guard, said the members would do whatever it takes to help.

“For every mission, guard support will be tailored to meet the needs of each site,” he said. “Mission details are still being worked out with the Maryland Department of Health and local medical facilities.”

Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute of Emergency Medical Services Systems, said as of Tuesday there were 3,006 adults and 51 children with COVID-19 in Maryland hospitals, a 100% increase since December 22. And hospital emergency rooms are struggling to deal with arriving patients.

“As of yesterday afternoon, more than 600 patients were waiting in emergency departments for their turn to be admitted to a hospital bed,” he said. “In fact, our emergency departments are as busy as they have ever been.”

In many cases, he said, people are going to emergency rooms who could easily be treated elsewhere.

In addition, Delbridge said, Maryland’s emergency departments are broadcasting yellow alerts to warn emergency crews to take patients to other facilities.

“Of course, that's not possible when every nearby emergency department is also requesting no new patients,” he added.

Delbridge said his agency has heard from emergency medical system leaders of congested emergency departments that have led to delays in transferring patients, tying up ambulance crews and resulting in long response times to emergency calls.

“In the past several days it has been necessary for us to be more deliberate in advising EMS personnel to avoid specific emergency departments for limited periods,” he said, “allowing them the emergency departments to catch up and regroup and help ensure that EMS ambulances did not become inadvertently sequestered.”

State statistics show that last year, nearly 75% of those who tested positive for COVID 19 had not been fully vaccinated. Nearly 84% of those hospitalized with COVID were not fully vaccinated and more than 84% of those who died from the disease were not fully vaccinated. Those are numbers that frustrated Delbridge.

“It's incredibly disheartening and discouraging to be on the healthcare frontlines and know that much of the current situation is avoidable,” he said “Vaccinations are akin to wearing a seatbelt. It might not prevent you from being injured in a crash, but it certainly reduces the severity and injuries and prevents fatalities.”

Hogan said Marylanders had gotten complacent, thinking things were getting back to normal.

“But with this new surge of omicron it's important for Marylanders to get back to using common sense and to doing the things that kept us safe before,” he urged. Residents should avoid crowds, maintain social distancing wash hands and “yes, wear the damn masks.”

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