Officials looking into travel histories after 3 confirmed coronavirus cases in Montgomery Co.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich speaks during a press conference after three residents are diagnosed with coronavirus. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich speaks during a press conference Friday, March 6, 2020 after three residents are diagnosed with coronavirus. (WTOP/Mike Murillo)

A day after three Montgomery County, Maryland, residents were diagnosed with coronavirus following an overseas trip, County Executive Marc Elrich said officials are working on figuring out where those people have been since they returned.

“The Department of Health is working to get the travel histories of all of the individuals, where they were, how they came back here and what they’ve been doing since they’ve been back here, and they’re going to follow up and monitor those individuals and also look at where they’ve had contacts in the community,” Elrich said.

And the county’s health department is working with the state to help establish contacts the individuals made while sick, said Dr. Travis Gayles, county health officer and chief of public health services.

It appears that the patients here are doing well clinically, Gayles said, and the cases appear mild so far, adding, “We don’t have any evidence of community-transmitted cases of COVID-19.”

More coronavirus coverage

Elrich said the county has been preparing for this type of scenario since January.

“I think everybody kind of knew intuitively that once it was in the United States that sooner or later it would be popping up in different places,” Elrich said. “We knew that Marylanders, like everybody else, travel around the world and have contact with people, and that it was entirely likely that this scenario would develop something like this.”

There are a number of people being looked at who have had contact with those who were diagnosed with coronavirus, Gayles said.

Elrich added, “We have to be extra careful about what we do in the course of things to make sure that the spread of this virus is contained.”

Elrich advised residents to stay away from those who are sick, and that individuals who believe they are sick should not travel.

Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz, who was also at the news conference Friday, added, “We want to make it clear: This is not a crisis.”

Montgomery County Public Schools, Maryland’s largest school system, announced that it will remain open. The county is, however, prepared for the possibility of future school closures.

The school system is encouraging families to remain vigilant and consult health providers if anyone begins experiencing symptoms believed to be related to the coronavirus.

On Thursday night, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency after the three cases of coronavirus were confirmed. These are the first confirmed cases in the state, and were positively identified by a Maryland lab in Baltimore.

What about colleges and universities?

Chancellor Jay Perman with the University System of Maryland issued guidance to its 12 institutions to consider postponing or canceling large gatherings, which could include events such as ceremonies, sports events, concerts or large seminar classes.

“I am not issuing a mandate, but I am advising that we be smart and apply our best judgment to a situation that is changing hourly,” Perman said.

For essential meetings, he is encouraging those be held in environments where social distancing can be achieved.

He also said he wants schools to be prepared to immediately go to online instruction, and for employees to be able to telework from home, potentially for sustained periods.

“The university system is not canceling classes or shutting down offices at this time. I am simply advising campuses to verify that they can go to an online environment quickly should the need arise,” Perman said.

Johns Hopkins experts brief Capitol Hill officials

Also on Friday, medical experts at Johns Hopkins University held a briefing for Capitol Hill officials.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said: “The goal is to get to a place where any patient, which has symptoms consistent with coronavirus, can be tested quickly. We are not at that point now. We don’t have the bandwidth now, but that is the goal.”

He and others spoke about the importance of expanding diagnostic testing; around 45 out of the 50 states have the ability to do testing. Vaccine development is likely to be 12 to 18 months away.

Johns Hopkins has more information here.

Watch the briefing here:

WTOP’s Mike Murillo contributed to this report.

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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