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Maryland to start universal coronavirus testing in prisons

This 2014 photo shows the exterior of the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, M.D. Correctional officers at Maryland’s largest state prison for years helped scores of inmates smuggle narcotics, tobacco, pornography and cellphones into the facility in exchange for money and sex, according to a pair of sweeping federal indictments unsealed Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2016. (Laura Emmons/The Daily Times via AP)

This 2014 photo shows the exterior of the Eastern Correctional Institution in Westover, Md. (Laura Emmons/The Daily Times via AP)

ANNAPOLIS — Maryland will begin universal testing for COVID-19 in all state-run correctional and juvenile facilities, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.

The governor also said the state is delivering more than 20,000 coronavirus tests each week to nursing homes, and distributing more than 33,000 additional swabs to local jurisdictions to help increase local testing capacity.

Hogan said the actions are aimed at continuing what he described as the state’s “aggressive efforts to target and isolate any outbreaks and clusters of cases.”

Meanwhile, a Maryland board on Wednesday approved nearly $121 million in state budget cuts in response to the negative economic impact of the coronavirus.

The Maryland Board of Public Works, comprising Hogan, Treasurer Nancy Kopp and Comptroller Peter Franchot, has the authority to cut up to 25% of the budget.

“We as a state will have some very difficult financial decisions to make in the coming weeks and months as we begin to grapple with the fiscal consequences of the coronavirus pandemic to our state,” said Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford, who voted in place of Hogan in the 3-0 vote.

The spending reductions include about $35 million that Maryland allocates to support the Metro around the nation’s capital. In addition, $62 million was tapped that had been planned for construction projects at the University of Maryland, Eastern Shore, for a pharmacy school and a new building at a University System of Maryland center in St. Mary’s County.

“The administration’s general strategy is to harness general funds that have been set aside for capital projects and that have not been spent or allocated to specific projects or that are not needed at this time,” said David Brinkley, the governor’s budget chief.

The state’s Board of Revenue Estimates projected last week that Maryland is facing a budget hole of between $925 million and $1.1 billion in the current fiscal year, which ends June 30, due to reductions in state revenues. More budget shortfalls are projected in upcoming fiscal years.

“We have sufficient funds in the rainy day fund to get us to move forward through this year and to the beginning of next year,” Brinkley said. “That is when we’re going to have to see some critical decision-making in moving forward.”

Board members also discussed overall economic problems the virus is causing. Franchot said he believed the state should “move as quickly as possible” to allow restaurants to have outdoor seating in addition to curbside service to help their businesses survive the pandemic. Rutherford said there have been discussions about allowing more business to be conducted outdoors.

Separately, the board deferred action on an emergency request from a company that provides medical care to the state’s prisons for $19 million above its $680 million, five-year contract because of the pandemic. Franchot said the new request represented a 30% increase in a monthly fee over the next six months, or about $3.2 million a month, and he said he believed the company should have “assumed these costs” under the initial contract.

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