UPDATED: Number of COVID-19 cases in Montgomery increases from 24 to 31
Hogan says no state currently has enough coronavirus tests
Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday announces the latest changes in Maryland because of coronavirus, including a postponement of the primary from April 28 to June 2. At left is Fran Phillips, the state's deputy secretary for public health services.
Image from video of press conference
Maryland had its largest single-day spike in positive coronavirus cases on Wednesday morning, when the statewide number rose to 85 cases, up from 57 on Tuesday.
Montgomery County continues to have the most cases, with 31 on Wednesday, up from 24 on Tuesday. Prince George’s County was next, with 20 cases as of Wednesday.
State and county health and government officials have said in recent days that they expect the increase, as more people get tested for coronavirus disease, or COVID-19.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich expressed frustration during a press conference on Sunday about the lack of access to tests, which, he said, was keeping the number of positive cases being reported artificially low.
Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday that Maryland plans to shut down all of its Motor Vehicle Administration emission testing sites and turn them into drive-through sites for coronavirus testing. The logistics were not hard, he said, but the question is whether there would be enough testing capability.
Hogan said during a press conference Tuesday that he doesn’t “want to be like other states” that have “tried it and failed miserably” because they did not have adequate testing capability to quickly service thousands of people.
Fran Phillips, the state’s deputy secretary for public health services, said it fits with the practice of “social distancing,” keeping patients removed from people who would do testing.
State officials did not give a timeline for when the change might happen.
Hogan, who is chairman of the National Governors Association, said Wednesday morning during an interview on MSNBC that no state currently has enough coronavirus tests. He noted that Maryland was one of the first states approved to do its own testing, rather than having to rely on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
He said the state is continuing to work on freeing up an additional 6,000 hospital beds in anticipation of a rising number of patients.
Asked about regional cooperation among Maryland, Virginia and Washington, D.C., and if there were plans for a “shelter in place” order like one put in place in the San Francisco Bay Area, Hogan said the two states and D.C. are working well, particularly on closing public gathering places, such as restaurants and bars, and placing new limits on Metro transit.
Other developments on Tuesday related to coronavirus included Maryland postponing its April 28 primary to June 2 and the likely move of the Preakness from May to September. The Kentucky Derby, which is traditionally held two weeks before the Preakness, already has announced its move to September.
For Montgomery County residents, the change in voting means a five-week delay to determine who will move on to the November general election in the school board races. The primary election also includes circuit court judge seats and the 3rd, 6th and 8th District Congress seats, as well as the presidential race.
“It would endanger the public health to allow thousands of people to assemble in places like schools and senior centers,” Hogan said Tuesday. “… While there are many valid reasons for unease and uncertainty right now, ensuring the voices of Maryland citizens are heard shouldn’t be one of them.”
The state Board of Elections has been tasked with creating a “comprehensive” plan by April 3 for the primary election.
Hogan said the special election to fill a vacant seat in Maryland’s 7th Congressional District will remain on April 28, but through mail-in ballots.
Hogan has been putting in place many new measures to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
On Monday, he declared that all bars, restaurants, movie theaters and gyms had to shut down indefinitely by 5 p.m. There were exceptions for drive-through and carry-out service.
Hogan said Monday that Maryland State Police and the National Guard would work together on enforcement.
Last week, the governor said group gatherings of at least 250 people were prohibited. On Monday, the limit dropped to 50. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has called for groups to be limited to 10 people for higher-risk populations.
“If we do nothing, the numbers are catastrophic,” Hogan said on Tuesday.
Public schools across the state are closed until at least March 30, with the possibility for extended closures, according to State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon.
Colleges have moved to online-only classes.
The first three coronavirus patients in Maryland — all from Montgomery County —have recovered. Hogan has said that many people who get COVID-19 will be fine, but people in high-risk categories, such as older than 60 and with underlying health problems, could be in danger.
Maryland has not had any COVID-19 deaths.
When cases first began popping up, they were all tied to overseas travel, but as cases increase, they are now mostly “being passed from a person in our state to another person in our state,” Hogan said.
Hogan also has announced that MARC train service is being cut by 50% and local transit options are being reduced.
Hours at Motor Vehicle Administration sites are being reduced and the state is suspending non-commercial driver’s license tests.
All toll stations on roads throughout the state will immediately be “cashless,” Hogan said.
Grocery stores will remain open, however, and Hogan urged Maryland to stop “panic shopping.”
Going to stores increases person-to-person contact, putting more people at risk of contracting the coronavirus disease, Hogan said.
“Share with your neighbors,” he said. “Stores will remain open. … We won’t run out of basic necessities.”