Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Thursday declared a state of emergency after the first three cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the state.
Hogan made the announcement during a news conference at the State House Thursday night, hours after state health officials confirmed the cases. Hogan urged calm even as he said he was mobilizing the state emergency operations center to coordinate any additional resources needed to address other potential cases.
“This is what our state has actively and aggressively been preparing for for weeks now,” Hogan said.
“This news may seem overwhelming,” said Hogan. “This is not a reason to panic. Marylanders should go to work or school just as they normally do.”
The three patients include a married couple in their 70s and an unrelated woman in her 50s. All three are from Montgomery County.
They contracted the illness while traveling on a “similar trip” overseas, officials said, declining to reveal the country or whether the three were on the same trip. They returned to the U.S. on Feb. 20 and reported feeling mildly ill on March 3. They went to a local hospital, where they were tested on March 4. Those tests came back positive Thursday.
The three patients called ahead to the hospital, allowing medical staff to put on protective clothing and to safely collect and package specimens for testing in Baltimore.
“The hospital was aware in advance, and we called to make sure they were aware that (the patients) were coming, said Fran Phillips, deputy health secretary.
The three patients are recovering and are quarantined in their homes. Their symptoms are subsiding, Phillips said.
Hogan said he informed the White House and officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention of the confirmed cases as well as Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich and school and public health officials in that county.
Maryland health department officials are working to determine how the three patients traveled on their return to Maryland, where they went and who they might have come into contact with between the time they arrived home and were tested, according to Phillips.
“This is very new,” said Phillips. “That’s exactly the kind of questions we want to ask, asking people to go back on their calendars day by day and retrace their lives in great detail. That’s exactly what’s happening now. We don’t have indications of other groups or other locations that we need to focus on.”
Phillips said the three individuals are cooperating with health officials, who hope to have more complete information very soon.
Phillips said others who feel ill, in particular those who have a fever of 104 or higher accompanied with a cough, should contact their doctor or call ahead before going to a hospital or doctor’s office.
COVID-19 is from a family of coronaviruses that include severe acute respiratory syndrome — SARS – and Middle East respiratory syndrome. The virus takes its name for the spikes that appear on the surface of its cells that resemble crowns.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can include fever, cough and breathing trouble. Most people who catch the virus develop only mild symptoms. But some people, usually those with other medical complications, develop more severe symptoms, including pneumonia, which can be fatal.
The U.S. death toll from the coronavirus climbed to 12 on Thursday, with all but one of the victims in Washington state. The number of infections swelled to over 200, scattered across 19 states, the Associated Press reported. Colorado and Nevada reported their first cases. Nine of the dead were from the same suburban Seattle nursing home, now under federal investigation.
Previously, Maryland officials had said Thursday that 31 people in the state have been tested, with 17 results negative. It was unclear how many results were yet to be reported or if the three confirmed cases were from this number.
The governor has already submitted emergency legislation that will allow him to use reserve funds to pay for costs related to the coronavirus.
“While we continue to hope for the best, we are also actively preparing for the worst,” Hogan said Wednesday. He also said the Maryland Emergency Management Agency is raising its threat level to “enhanced,” which the governor said will allow the agency to access additional resources in preparation for an outbreak.
Hogan’s emergency bill would allow the governor to transfer $50 million from the state rainy day fund to pay for costs related to the illness. Hogan would have to give the legislature seven days notice before making a transfer.
In Maryland, as in many other parts of the country, conventions and travel plans are being canceled or rescheduled in an effort to mitigate an outbreak.
The WOW-Women of the World Festival Baltimore, scheduled for Saturday, March 7, at the Inner Harbor’s Columbus Center, has been canceled. Maryland universities and colleges have also scaled back study-abroad programs.
The economic affects of the coronavirus have preceded the spread of the virus itself, with financial markets swinging wildly, companies closing offices or asking employees to work from home in affected areas, and air travel across the globe dramatically scaled back.
Nearly 100,000 COVID-19 cases and 3,000 deaths have been reported across 79 countries and territories. The hardest hit countries are China, where the outbreak began, South Korea, Italy and Iran.
U.S. officials have urged Americans not to travel to those countries, and airlines have severely curtailed flights there.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.