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USM prepares for online classes and hospitals adopt new visitor policies

Dr. Jay Perman speaks Oct. 21 at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion summit. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)

Dr. Jay Perman speaks Oct. 21 at the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion summit. (The Daily Record / Tim Curtis)

Public universities in Maryland canceled classes and will prepare to shift to online classes following spring break and Maryland hospitals made changes to their visitor policies and schools canceled field trips Tuesday as the state’s institutions continued to respond to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 epidemic.

University System of Maryland Chancellor Jay Perman instructed university presidents to prepare for students to remain off campus for at least the two weeks following spring break — which begins Saturday and lasts through March 22  — and said classes may be canceled this week to prepare.

“Given the residential nature of the universities within the System, USM must apply an abundance of caution to ensure that students and employees are protected and safe,” Perman said in a statement. “Therefore, I strongly urge every university to prepare for students to remain off campus—for at least two weeks—following the end of spring break. During those two weeks or longer, all USM universities should be prepared to deliver instruction remotely.”

Towson University became the first university to cancel classes, announcing Tuesday afternoon that classes Wednesday through Friday would be canceled. The university asked students to take all essential belongings, medications, and materials from their residence hall or work space in case campus access were to become restricted.

The system’s Board of Regents will receive a briefing from Perman and state Health Secretary Robert R. Neall — who is also a regent — Tuesday evening. 

Universities across the country, including American University, Ohio State University and Harvard University have moved their classes online. 

While the campuses will encourage  students to remain off campus, Perman also emphasized that they will remain open before, during and after spring break.

“Preparation for campus departures and online instruction will vary among universities, and each USM president therefore has discretion to ensure that faculty and staff have adequate time to set these plans in motion,” he said. “While this means that some classes may be canceled this week, all campuses will remain open before, during, and after spring break.”

university-of-maryland-medical-center-1553897219Maryland hospital systems have put in place more stringent visitor policies that include restrictions on child visitors and visitors who have recently traveled internationally.

The University of Maryland Medical System announced over the weekend that one of its hospitals was treating a patient with a confirmed case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.

“The coronavirus disease poses several challenges to an extended family presence at a patient’s bedside including potential spread of the virus to patients and staff by those with asymptomatic or mild infection,” David Marcozzi, the system’s COVID-19 incident commander, said in a statement.  “Enacting these changes to visitation is consistent with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention regarding response to the coronavirus.”

UMMS and LifeBridge Health made changes, effective Wednesday.

Their changes include:

  • All visitors must check in at the front desk;
  • No visitors younger than 18 are permitted in hospitals, ambulatory clinics or urgent care facilities;
  • One adult visitor per patient;
  • Visitors will be screened for flu-like symptoms and cannot visit if they have symptoms;
  • Visitors who recently traveled internationally may not visit 14 days after they arrive in the U.S.

At LifeBridge, children of patients will be allowed to visit.

Luminis Health’s coronavirus visitors policy says children younger than 12 should not visit, people with cold- or flu-like symptoms should not visit and patients or visitors coming to Luminis hospitals with respiratory symptoms must request a mask.

Greater Baltimore Medical Center said it had not updated its visitor policy, but was reviewing its policies daily and would update if necessary.

Hospitals put some similar restrictions in place during the heights of flu season, Marcozzi said.

“These enhanced visitor limitations are designed to protect the health and safety of the public, our staff and our patients, now that there are confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland,” he said. “We understand this is a challenging time for many in our communities and we are continuing to remain vigilant and work with local, state and federal partners to keep patients and health care workers safe.”

UMMS has also suspended all animal therapy because of reports of canine COVID-19 transmission. Service animals are still permitted.

At LifeBridge’s Sinai, Northwest and Carroll hospitals, tents have been set up outside of the emergency departments as a precaution in case the hospitals need a large area to screen and triage patients, LifeBridge said in a news release. 

“While we hope that we will not have need for them, having these tents in place will allow our teams to respond more quickly should the need arise,” the release said.

Maryland school systems have also begun to make changes as responses to the virus evolve.

Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano cancelled all out-of-state field trips and athletic events, including trips to Washington, D.C. and said the system was evaluating in-state trips with a decision coming by Thursday.

“The decision to cancel out-of-state field trips was made out of an abundance of caution to minimize risk to HCPSS students, staff and families,” he said in a statement.

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