Gov. Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency that mobilizes the National Guard to assist state and local health officers at testing and vaccine sites and authorizes the state Department of Health to take steps to increase staffing at overwhelmed hospitals.
Hogan predicted that Maryland is expected to see its “most challenging” phase of the pandemic in the next four to six weeks. He said models are showing that hospitals could see more than 5,000 people hospitalized, which would amount to a 250 percent increase in hospitalizations.
“With this new surge of omicron it’s important for Marylanders to go back to using common sense and doing the things that will keep us safe: avoiding crowds, keeping your distance, washing your hands, and yes, once again, wearing the damn masks,” Hogan said.
On Tuesday, the state health department reported 3,057 people hospitalized with covid-19, an record since the start of the pandemic. The number of patients hospitalized is an increase of 500 percent in the last seven weeks, Hogan said.
Hospitals implemented pandemic surge plans when they reached 2,000 covid-19 patients, which included the transfer of patients from overcrowded hospitals to hospitals that could accommodate them and the cancellation of non-urgent elective surgeries.
Hogan said his focus has been and continues to be keeping people out of hospitals and preventing deaths. Asked about imposing a statewide mask mandate, he said he is not considering one because it is difficult to enforce.
Hogan has been under fire for weeks to take additional action to address the surge in the state. He said Tuesday that the models are “drastically different” than they were previously, which led him to take the latest steps.
The governor said Maryland reached a new peak of 3,057 hospitalizations on Tuesday, which represents an increase of more than 500% over the past seven weeks, and they could surpass 5,000 patients in the coming weeks.
“From Day 1 of the crisis, I have told it to you straight, and so the truth is, the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging time of the entire pandemic,” the governor said during a news conference.
The emergency declaration comes one week after the Maryland Hospital Association called for the state to issue a limited public health emergency, saying hospitals’ workforces were stretched “incredibly thin.”
The first of two executive orders Hogan signed Tuesday gives the health department authority over hospitals’ staffing, capacity and supplies. It also clears the way for out-of-state, retired and graduate nurses to practice.
The second mobilizes 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to beef up emergency medical services. Roughly 250 of those National Guard members will support COVID-19 testing sites statewide.
“In addition, they will be assisting us in the opening of another 20 testing sites outside hospitals all across the state in order to meet the rapidly rising demand for testing,” the governor said.
Hogan also called on the Biden administration to provide more shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments, and to ramp up production and distribution of both COVID-19 tests and newly authorized antiviral medicines.
Last month, the state launched a surge operations center to help Maryland’s hospitals manage capacity, and hospitals were directed to scale back non-emergency procedures to free up beds.
The governor also pledged $100 million to nursing homes and hospitals, including $50 million to help address staffing shortages at those facilities.
Among other things, the state has also ramped up its testing operation. That includes launching two new state-run testing clinics in Anne Arundel and Harford counties, which are open seven days a week.
Maryland National Guard soldiers will help set up 20 new testing sites at hospitals across the state, the governor’s office said.
Following FDA approval, Maryland will supply booster shots to children ages 12 to 15, Hogan said. Additionally, adults who have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine only have to wait five months to get boosted instead of six, he said.
“All of the emergency actions that we’re taking today are to keep our hospitals from overflowing, to keep our kids in school and to keep Maryland open for business,” the governor said. “And we will continue to take whatever actions are necessary in the very difficult days and weeks ahead.”