Health Secretary: Maryland has leased ice rinks for possible makeshift morgues

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect comments from the governor’s office.

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The state of Maryland has leased two ice skating rinks to use as possible makeshift morgues during the COVID-19 crisis.

Maryland Health Secretary Robert R. Neall shared the grim detail with the University System of Maryland Board of Regents on a teleconference Monday evening.

Neall, a member of the board, said officials are working overtime to create a temporary hospital system that is three-quarters the size of the state’s permanent hospital system.

“Masks, gowns, ventilators … All in very short supply,” Neall said. “This is the world’s largest scavenger hunt.”

The measures are precautionary and consistent with guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Gov. Larry Hogan’s communications director Mike Ricci said. “We plan for all contingencies. If we focus on staying home and slowing the spread, this won’t be necessary.”

According to a U.S. House Oversight and Reform Committee report released last week, Maryland has received a fraction of the medical supplies requested from the Federal Emergency Management Agency, including none of the 15,000 body bags it sought.

As of Monday morning, Maryland had reported 91 deaths statewide from the novel coronavirus. A nursing home in Carroll County reported an additional four deaths Monday evening.

There are more than 4,000 confirmed cases of the virus in Maryland, with more than 400 new confirmations on Monday.

During the brief update to the regents on Monday, Neall said the state is also working to get as many volunteers as possible to help treat patients, transport them and complete laboratory work.

A 250-bed field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center is opening and the state is expanding patient space in existing hospitals, while adding about 100 modular treatment facilities throughout the state, Neall said. Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) is scheduled to tour the convention center Tuesday afternoon.

“Our goal is not to be on television looking like New York,” Neall said. “I hope we’ll be able to get all the stuff that we need organized in a way so that we can get through this with minimal casualties and our dignity intact.”

Additional details about the leases of ice skating rinks were not immediately available from the Maryland Department of Health on Monday evening.

University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay A. Perman said campuses are also working to address shortages, including by drafting agreements with state and local governments to make campus spaces available for the state’s COVID-19 response effort.

Several universities have been asked to make space available, including residence halls for medical and first responder housing, open spaces for staging, space for supply storage, shuttle buses for transportation and personal protective equipment for frontline workers.

Perman did not share details on the number or types of agreements that have been reached.

The universities are also encouraging retired alumni and current students to join the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps and are asking state licensing boards, including the Board of Nursing, to permit early graduation of some students, who could be assigned to the state’s frontlines faster, Perman said.

“This flexibility could mean a few hundred more nurses are deployed now, when we need them the most, when hundreds of lives are on the line,” Perman said.

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