‘Olivia’s Law,’ aimed at university’s outbreak response, advances in Annapolis

The Maryland Senate has moved closer to final approval of “Olivia’s Law,” a bill that would require the University System of Maryland to issue an outbreak response plan when there is a life-threatening contagious disease or other health emergency present at any of the system’s campuses.

The bill has already passed in the House of Delegates, and on Wednesday, Maryland’s Senate passed SB 329 on second reader.

A final vote in the Senate could come by the end of the week.

The bill is named for Olivia Paregol, the 18-year-old University of Maryland freshman who died after an outbreak of adenovirus on the College Park campus in 2018.

Olivia Paregol, 18, died during a 2018 outbreak of adenovirus at the University of Maryland, College Park. (Courtesy Ian Paregol)

The Washington Post first reported that the university waited 18 days before publicly issuing notification of the presence of the virus on campus.

If passed, the legislation would require that a response plan to an outbreak be submitted to health department officials by Aug. 1 each year.

At a hearing on the House version of the bill in January, Del. Joseline Peña-Melnyk, the bill’s sponsor in the House, explained that the legislation would also require a process calling on the university system to notify students, faculty, staff and the surrounding community of the presence of an outbreak.

“So, it would require communication, which is really important,” said Peña-Melnyk, a Democrat who represents parts of Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties. She also noted the delay in reporting by campus officials in 2018.

After Wednesday’s vote on the Senate floor, Sen. Jeff Waldstreicher, D-Montgomery County, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, was asked if concerns over the possible spread of coronavirus was on the mind of state lawmakers.

“I think everyone recognizes that the possibility of another viral outbreak in Maryland — including on our college campuses — is very real, and we have to make sure our universities are prepared for that, just as our state health department is,” Waldstreicher said.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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