Montgomery County designated coronavirus ‘hot spot’

Montgomery County designated coronavirus ‘hot spot’

New state ‘strike teams’ will focus on COVID-19 triage, care at nursing homes

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan speaks during a press conference on Tuesday.

Image from live stream video

As the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise daily, Montgomery County has been designated a “hot spot” for the disease, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday.

Montgomery County joins 11 other local jurisdictions in the state to receive the national designation, which indicates they “demand urgent federal attention,” he said.

Hogan also announced that the state has created “strike teams” to visit nursing homes to provide triage and emergency care. He said there have been coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, cases and clusters at 90 nursing homes across the statement. Several of them are in Montgomery County.

Hogan said he worked tirelessly over the past few weeks to draw national coronavirus task force leaders’ attention to the Baltimore-Washington corridor. He said he made “30 or 40” calls and spent multiple weekends highlighting the increasing number of cases and their proximity to the nation’s capital, where thousands of federal workers and prominent research and medical companies are.

“Beginning about almost two weeks ago, I started ringing every alarm bell I could ring,” Hogan said during a press conference in Baltimore. “I said … while you’re focused on New York and New Orleans, don’t forget about what’s right here. This area is so critical to the nation’s defense.”

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Health and Security, said that, despite daily increases in confirmed cases and deaths, Maryland’s “early and aggressive” implementation of social distancing measures mitigated COVID-19’s impact.

Inglesby said state officials are “hopeful the peak day in Maryland is sometime soon,” citing a forecasting model used by the White House that shows the state’s peak in cases in 10 days.

He also highlighted that the number of new cases on Tuesday and new hospitalizations was lower than in previous days.

“It’s just one day of data, but if confirmed over time, it would be a very good move in the right direction,” Inglesby said.

As of Tuesday morning, there were 871 known cases of the coronavirus in Montgomery County, and 4,371 across Maryland. More than 100 people had died.

On Tuesday, Hogan said he has directed the state Department of Health to begin publicly releasing information about coronavirus patients’ race and ethnicity.

However, about 90% of tests are sent to private labs that do not report such data, Hogan said, so “we anticipate having significant gaps in the initial data that will be available to us.”

Several Montgomery County leaders have pushed for more comprehensive demographic data about patients to help properly distribute resources and information to communities.

Both Inglesby and Hogan said the restrictions currently in place — closures of schools and businesses and bans on large gatherings of people — will be eased slowly over time.

Inglesby said the number of cases would need to be “near zero,” and low enough that local health departments could track and isolate each individual patient. Testing should be so widely available that “even the mildest cases” could be tested and receive results in the same day. Now, results are often not received for several days and the supply of test kits is low for what is needed.

Hogan said he’s “anxious to get everyone back to their normal lives as quickly as we can.”

“But the last thing we want to do is bring everything back too fast and have his thing ramp back up,” Hogan said. “… Decisions on reopening and getting back to normal will be even more difficult than the ones to shut things down, which were extremely difficult.”

State officials also cautioned that the situation in Maryland is still serious. The “strike teams” will be deployed to nursing homes across the state that are “overburdened” by coronavirus disease outbreaks, Hogan said.

He said there are three kinds of strike teams.

The first consists of staff members who can collect testing specimens for suspected cases and “provide expert instruction” about how to keep cases isolated. The second involves Maryland National Guard members who will “quickly assess the situation, determine the equipment and supplies needed and triage residents,” Hogan said.

The third strike team consists of doctors and nurses who will provide on-site treatment to “avoid unnecessary transport to hospitals.”

The strike teams will be activated in response to local requests.
Hogan said Maryland is the first state in the nation to “launch such a coordinated response effort.”

“The goal is not to replace the nursing homes’ medical team, but to provide immediate support and assistance,” Hogan said.

Eleven Montgomery County nursing homes have reported outbreaks of the coronavirus, according to local health officials. A nursing home has an “outbreak” if there is one confirmed case among residents or staff.

Among other announcements during Tuesday’s press conference, Hogan said the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore — where, ordinarily, the Preakness Triple Crown would have been held in May — will be used as a drive-thru COVID-19 testing site.

Besides Montgomery County, the other counties part of the “hot spot” designation are Baltimore Carroll, Prince George’s, Anne Arundel, Howard, Hartford, Howard, Queen Anne’s, Frederick and Charles. Baltimore City also is included.

Caitlynn Peetz can be reached at caitlynn.peetz@bethesdamagazine.com

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For other Bethesda Beat coverage of the coronavirus, click here.

To see a timeline of major coronavirus developments in Maryland and Montgomery County, click here

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