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Md. advising nursing homes to limit visitors, employee travel

Gov. Larry Hogan Monday says state agencies are canceling out-of-state travel by state employees and he urged older residents to stay home if they can during the virus outbreak. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Gov. Larry Hogan Monday says nursing homes need to limit visitors to help prevent the spread of the COVID-19 virus. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

ANNAPOLIS — Nursing homes and retirement facilities in Maryland are being asked to restrict visitors and employee travel as part of an effort to protect elderly residents from the COVID-19 virus.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced the new guidelines as the state enters its second week of heightened response to the virus that has now infected eight patients. The governor said during a Tuesday meeting on the virus with his full Cabinet that he wished to prevent an outbreak in other areas of the country.

“Older people and those with underlying health conditions are much more vulnerable and at significantly higher risk of contracting the disease with morbidity and mortality rates that are three to five times higher than the flu,” said Hogan. “Nursing homes and retirement communities are the areas of greatest concern. The nursing home in Kirkland Washington continues to be the site of the worst COVID-19 outbreak in the United States.”

Currently, there are more than 160 cases in eight counties in Washington state and 22 deaths with the vast majority — 19 — associated with a single facility in that state and 31 others who have tested positive for the virus.

Hogan, stressing the need to prevent such an occurrence in Maryland, said nursing homes should begin to restrict access to visitors and make online face-to-face and phone call communications more widely available. Furthermore, the governor called for facilities to restrict employees from traveling outside the country.

Additionally, he called on facilities to monitor any staff who have traveled outside the country in the last 14 days or who show signs of a sore throat, cough, fever or other upper respirator symptoms. Staff who feel ill are asked to stop working immediately, inform their facility and self-isolate.

It was not immediately clear if the recommendations issued by the governor were mandatory or advisory. Hogan said a written advisory would be issued later in the day.

“You’ll see that later,” Hogan told reporters outside the reception room where his Cabinet continued meeting. “I’m not trying to get into all the specifics of it at this moment but you’ll have it later today.”

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.

Maryland has been under a state of emergency since March 5 so that the state can ramp up response efforts to the virus.

On Monday, Hogan called on the elderly to consider avoiding large crowds and gatherings as well as travel citing concerns over the virus and its effect on older people.

“The average person right now that has the disease is 60,” Hogan said Monday. “The average (age) of the person who died is 80. People in nursing homes are the ones we’re most concerned about.”

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