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As plight of nursing home patients worsens, Md. issues new orders

ANNAPOLIS — State health officials are issuing new directives to nursing homes and similar facilities as Maryland faces an explosion of COVID-19 cases.

At least five dozen nursing homes in Maryland have reported at least one case of the virus. One nursing home in Mt. Airy has reported 77 patients and staff are infected and five have died.

“We are doing everything we can to keep you safe,” said Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips, speaking directly to families and nursing residents during a Friday afternoon news conference.

Phillips said that despite efforts to keep the virus out of nursing homes and away from some of the state’s most fragile populations, those facilities are seeing a surge in patients.

Roughly 71% of those who have tested positive for the virus so far in Maryland are under the age of 60. State health officials have emphasized trying to prevent the spread of the virus among nursing homes and retirement facilities because older people and those with underlying health conditions are more severely affected and at risk of dying.

Currently, 46 homes in Maryland have reported between one and four cases of the virus. Another 12 facilities report between seven and 10 cases. Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mt. Airy has the largest outbreak, with 77 patients and staff members having been infected.

“It’s important that we smother these nursing homes with infection control,” said Phillips. “But do not think that that virus is only in those nursing homes.”

Phillips said the cases suggest that people are able to transmit the virus before they show symptoms.

“What we are seeing here in Maryland and across the country is clear evidence that people can be infectious, that they can transmit this virus, even before they develop symptoms,” she said.

Gov. Larry Hogan also announced the following during a news conference Friday afternoon:

  • A prohibition on mortgage lenders from beginning foreclosures.
  • An extension of the prohibition on evictions to commercial and industrial tenants
  • A moratorium on repossession of cars, trucks or mobile homes.

Hogan called on Marylanders to observe a moment of prayer at noon Sunday for those who have been infected with the virus, those who have died, first responders and medical professionals and for the state.

To combat the spread of the virus in nursing homes, Phillips said, all facilities will be required to protect patients by strictly adhering to state and federal guidance on containing the virus.

Included in the new guidance, Phillips said, are directives for facilities to move to universal masking. Additionally, when there is a suspicion of infection either in a patient or staff member, facilities are to use state labs for testing.

The state lab is prioritizing such tests, Phillips said.

Phillips also called on facilities to assist in the orderly and timely transition of residents who have been hospitalized because of the virus but have since recovered and can return to their nursing home or residential facility.

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 which 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 seen an explosion of cases in the last week.

As of Friday morning, there were 2,758 confirmed cases. The increase of 427 positive cases is the largest yet for a 24-hour period. So far, 42 have died. An additional 662 cases have been hospitalized.

Of those hospitalized in Maryland, approximately 43% are in intensive care.

Nationally approximately 25 percent of those hospitalized because of the virus require intensive care, including the use of a ventilator and extra staffing, according to state health officials.

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