Maryland schools will remain closed for the rest of the academic year, the state’s schools superintendent announced Wednesday.
And, during the briefing, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan also shared updates that the state appeared to be on track to begin “Phase One” of his reopening plan, possibly as soon as next week.
In announcing the schools decision, state Superintendent Karen Salmon added that small group learning, perhaps with students following an alternative day or alternative week schedule, could begin during Maryland’s “Phase Two” plan sometime in the future.
Salmon said school systems will make their own decisions, but her office will provide “options and considerations,” including sample schedules and other ideas for expanded instruction.
Hogan said the likely initiation of Phase One is a result of a “leveling trend” and “encouraging numbers” related to COVID-19 hospitalization and intensive care unit occupancy throughout the state, but that “several more days of good metrics” are required.
- Sign up for WTOP alerts
- Latest coronavirus test results in DC, Maryland and Virginia
- Coronavirus update: DC tourism revenue nose-dives amid pandemic
- Health official: Virginia COVID-19 testing in ‘much better place’
- Va. Gold Cup to run with no spectators, tailgating, fancy hats
- Coronavirus FAQ: What you need to know
- Coronavirus resources: Get and give help in DC, Maryland and Virginia
Guidelines provided for elective medical procedures
The Maryland Department of Health is offering guidance to hospitals and health care providers about restarting elective surgeries, and important health screenings and tests, that have been postponed during the coronavirus pandemic.
The new guidance allows for those procedures, which include things such as a PET scan or an angioplasty, to resume Thursday morning, as long as six key precautions are taken.
“If there’s something you’ve had to delay, you should be able to take care of those important, time-sensitive procedures now,” Hogan said.
The governor’s March 24 executive order required that doctors cancel all nonemergency procedures due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Hogan asked doctors and health care providers to “use their independent professional judgment” in deciding which cases to take on.
The facility must have a one-week supply of personal protective equipment for staff, patients and themselves, and they must be procured from the usual supply chain and not from the state. Waiting rooms must be able to manage social distancing guidelines; doctors and staff must be screened each day for COVID-19 symptoms; and infection control guidelines from the CDC must be followed.
Any facility that can’t meet the guidelines will be limited to emergency-only procedures.
More outdoor activities allowed to restart
Though the stay-at-home order has not been lifted, Hogan did say that Maryland will begin opening access to certain outdoor activities, such as golf, tennis, camping, fishing, boating, state park facilities, beaches and other activities where access is controlled by the state government, starting Thursday morning.
Today I provided several updates on Maryland’s #COVID19 response and recovery plan, including the resumption of elective medical procedures and the broadening of permitted outdoor activities. Watch today’s press conference: https://t.co/8U1XQMRISi pic.twitter.com/KLndIIZqWA
— Governor Larry Hogan (@GovLarryHogan) May 6, 2020
“I know how anxious people are to get outside, both for their physical and their mental well-being,” Hogan said, noting that outdoor activities are safer than indoor activities.
“After much discussion, all of our doctors and scientists are now in agreement that we are able to move forward with resuming some additional, lower-risk, outdoor activities,” he said.
Local governments, Hogan said, will be able to make similar decisions on their own.
Federal prosecutors subpoena Maryland PPE contract records
Federal prosecutors have subpoenaed Maryland records relating to a $12.5 million contract for personal protective equipment that never arrived, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan told The Associated Press Wednesday.
Michael Ricci, Hogan’s spokesman, confirmed in an email that Maryland has received subpoenas from federal prosecutors. The contract was with Blue Flame Medical, a company founded by two politically connected Republicans. Ricci declined to elaborate on the subpoenas.
Doctors: Don’t delay seeking medical help for non-COVID concerns
Dr. David Marcozzi, the COVID-19 incident commander for the University of Maryland Medical System, made the important point that state residents who feel they need treatment for a medical issue should not deny themselves out of a fear that they may expose themselves to the virus.
“This is time to take care of ourselves, both physically and mentally,” Marcozzi said. “I want to emphasize that there’s no reason to delay time-sensitive care. Maryland’s hospitals and doctors’ offices are able to, or are taking steps so that they are able to, care for patients during this pandemic.”
Marcozzi reminded residents that many doctors are using telehealth, which allows them to see patients remotely using a video platform. “You can see a patient for mental health concerns or physical concerns right now, through your phone,” Marcozzi said.
That sentiment was echoed by Dr. Travis Gayles, the chief of public health services for Montgomery County.
“What we want to emphasize is this — if you have medical needs, please seek medical attention, because it’s important that you get the medical care that you need,” Gayles said. “The hospitals are doing everything in their power to may sure that they’re a safe environment, and we don’t have any information to suggest that any of the facilities in our county have been compromised in any way. They’re there to help you.”
Temporary morgue at Md. ice rink
A temporary morgue has opened at an ice skating and hockey facility in Laurel, Maryland, to store bodies during the pandemic.
The Associated Press reported that a state lawmaker said Wednesday that they morgue opened last month at the Gardens Ice House; state health officials wouldn’t disclose the location.
In a news conference Wednesday, Hogan said that he didn’t know how long the temporary morgue would be needed. “Hopefully it won’t be for very long. I was hoping we wouldn’t need it at all, but it is being utilized,” he said.
MCPS to update the community this weekend
After news that schools would remain closed for the rest of the academic year, Montgomery County Public Schools said it would give an update to the community this weekend on a number of topics, such as online learning, high school graduation and prom.
“We strongly believe this is the right decision for the safety and well-being of Maryland students and their families,” said county schools Superintendent Jack Smith in a statement Wednesday. “While this news is not unexpected, it doesn’t diminish the sadness and disappointment that many of us are feeling because we won’t be together in schools to learn and work together; participate in athletic and arts events; and attend end-of-the-year celebrations and graduations.”
PGCPS to also give update
Also responding to the school closures, Prince George’s County Public Schools CEO Monica Goldson said that distance learning will continue through the end of the school year.
The last day for high school seniors will still be May 15. The last day of school for other students is June 16; for teachers, it’s June 18.
Goldson said the school system will continue its grab-and-go meals program; an estimated 500,000 meals have been served since the program’s start at nearly 50 sites countywide.
“Prior to the conclusion of this school year, we will share our plans for academic enrichment over the summer and what to expect in the fall,” Goldson said in a statement Wednesday. “While none of us could have predicted the school year would end this way, I am committed to finishing what we started together — PGCPS proud and PGCPS strong — as one community, one village.”
Montgomery Co. announces expanded testing
Maryland’s most populous county on Wednesday announced plans to broaden testing, especially for residents who may not have primary care providers or health insurance.
Montgomery County has recorded nearly 6,000 cases so far during the COVID-19 pandemic, and ZIP codes in Silver Spring alone account for about a quarter of that total.
“We recognize that access to testing is a significant issue for many in our population,” said Gayles.
Gayles said one of the gaps in the public health safety net early in the coronavirus outbreak was that members of the community who did not have a primary doctor could not get a referral for a test, which may have helped the virus spread faster than it should have in the county.
Gayles said African-American residents in the county have been disproportionately affected by the virus per 100,000 in the demographic. That has been newly presented on the county’s website.
“Because of that [data], we’ve been able to understand how [the virus] impacts different segments of our society,” Gayles said.
More than 300 Montgomery County residents have died from the virus. Montgomery County Executive Mark Elrich called that milestone “grim.”
In his briefing Wednesday, Hogan said the pharmaceutical firm Gilead has donated 1,600 doses of its antiviral drug remdesivir, which has proven to hasten the recovery time of some of the worst-off patients, to Maryland. The doses will be deployed in the state’s two most-affected counties, Prince George’s and Montgomery.
Gayles outlined plans the county has to promote a coronavirus hotline so that people who do not have insurance can talk with a doctor and get a referral for a test. The county has also expanded locations for testing throughout the county. The hotline will launch next week.
“You will be able to call, get screened and triaged,” Gayles said.
At some point soon, Gayles said, the county will be able to dispatch mobile testing units — known as “ready responders” — to be able to test residents in “hot spots,” be it an apartment building or a family unit that has a disproportionate degree of symptoms related to COVID-19.
“We’re trying to create a buffet of testing options,” he said.
Elrich said the county would have liked to offer testing without the severe prerequisites earlier, but the volume of test kits was not available.
Elrich also acknowledged that many county residents are experiencing “quarantine fatigue.”
But, he said, he felt staying home and limiting residents’ exposure to each other was the “best strategy” available at the start of the outbreak.
“We’ve not experienced some of the extreme peaks because we were able to do this early on and it was absolutely the right thing to do, and we’re telling people we need to be patient,” Elrich said.
He added that he wants to be sure the county and states in the region continue to work together on reopening the economies.
“It’s very important that everybody be working together and we’re going to continue to look to the governor for guidance,” Elrich said of Gov. Larry Hogan. “Were going to continue to work with the state to reopen as safely as possible. I miss the concerts and all the other stuff, but it’s not worth bringing that back if we also bring back a reintroduction of the virus at higher levels.”
On that note, Elrich also expressed concern for what lies ahead of beach communities, such as Ocean City, that are planning to reopen their beaches without also offering residents and visitors the accompanying amenities that many expect from those cities, such as restaurants and retail.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.