2020 | Bethesda Beat

Coronavirus updates: Supplies in demand

Senior citizen town hall canceled; Tests done in Baltimore; Fears hurting Asian restaurants

Bare shelf

Disinfectant wipes were among popular items that had run out Friday afternoon at the Bethesda Giant at 7142 Arlington Road. Gloves, face masks and hand sanitizer are have also been disappearing from store shelves.

Photo by Dan Schere

Supplies in demand

At the Bethesda Giant at 7142 Arlington Road on Friday afternoon, when customers asked the store’s front-end manager, Lahiru Fernando, where the disinfectant wipes were, he said the store had run out.

“We had some this morning,” he said.

Fernando said that for the last two weeks, wipes, gloves and hand sanitizer have been in short supply, due to the fear over coronavirus. On Friday, customers were buying canned food, paper towels and bottled water, he said, in response to news that three confirmed cases of the disease were in Montgomery County.

Fernando said his store made repeated requests for more shipments of the in-demand items from the grocery store’s warehouse in Pennsylvania. But he said he doesn’t think the warehouse has enough shipments for the 17 Giant stores in Maryland it serves.

Fernando said business has increased 5% to 7% in the last two weeks.

Hand sanitizer, latex gloves and facemasks were in short supply at CVS at 7809 Wisconsin Ave., manager Hang Binh said.

“We don’t have any right now,” he said.

Binh added that Lysol, wipes and alcohol peroxide were also running low and said the store has increased its order from the supplier.

Store employees, Binh noted, have tried to avoid handling cash when possible out of concern that bills might contain germs from sick customers. Cashiers have kept hand sanitizer at the counter as a precaution.

—Dan Schere

Senior citizen town hall canceled

Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus led the Montgomery County Council to postpone a senior citizen town hall meeting scheduled for Wednesday at Leisure World in Aspen Hill. The event was to focus on various resources in county government for senior citizens.

The council postponed the event because county government is on “active status,” according to a press release, meaning resources are focused on health and safety issues related to the disease.

“Given these recent developments, the Council is postponing the Leisure World town hall to a later date,” the press release stated.

The city of Gaithersburg had no plans to close any city facilities or cancel programs, city spokeswoman Amy McGuire wrote in an email Friday afternoon.

Marylou Berg, a spokeswoman for the city of Rockville, wrote in an email that the city has “increased cleaning at our facilities, and we are partnering with the county to distribute information about prevention and the importance of keeping informed.”

Bethesda’s KID Museum is closing on weekends, Founder and Executive Director Cara Lesser wrote in an email.

“We are doing this out of an abundance of caution and will reopen on weekends as soon as possible,” she wrote.

Lesser wrote that the museum would stay open on weekdays for school visits and family programming for families.

—Dan Schere

International trips canceled

Montgomery County Public Schools spokesman Derek Turner said the district has canceled all international field trips in response to the worldwide coronavirus outbreak.

School officials are also considering whether to cancel domestic trips.

Turner did not know how many international or local field trips would be affected by the decision.

—Caitlynn Peetz

WMATA doing extra cleaning

The Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority, which operates Metrobus and Metrorail, states on its website that it activated a Phase 1 Pandemic Flu task force in January in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

On Friday, WMATA upgraded to Phase 2, which includes: more sanitizer supplies for front-line employees; expanded monitoring of trends of employee absences; and the suspension of nonessential business travel.

The task force is made up of Metro’s chief safety officer and in-house medical staff.

The task force is responsible for communicating with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, along with local and public health authorities, increasing the transit system’s medical supplies and monitoring employee absences due to sickness.

Dan Stessel, a WMATA spokesman, said Friday morning that the transit agency’s staff “stepped up” the cleaning routine of buses and trains.

—Dan Schere

Montgomery College open, but thinking ahead to remote instruction

In a message to students and staff on Friday, Montgomery College President DeRionne Pollard reinforced that campuses remained open and operating as normal. But college officials are continuing to detail plans for remote classes if county officials advise that it is necessary, Pollard wrote.

In part of her message, Pollard encouraged community members to reject xenophobia stemming from fear of the disease.

Because the coronavirus originated in Wuhan, China, some communities across the country have reported that their Asian residents are targeted as carriers.

“Let’s be intentional about not stigmatizing people assumed to be from those regions that first experienced the coronavirus outbreak,” Pollard wrote. “Fear and anxiety may contribute to broad generalizations and assumptions about people from other countries. Classifying people from other countries as dangerous or sick, or making assumptions about a person’s nationality based on their physical features reinforces long-standing histories of xenophobia and racism, whether intentional or not.”

—Caitlynn Peetz

Coronavirus fears hurting Asian restaurants

Fears over the disease have had an impact on Asian restaurants in the area, said Jimmy Chan, the owner of Bite of Asia at 7613 Wisconsin Ave. Chan said his restaurant is losing roughly $1,000 per day in business.

At the beginning of the week, he had to lay off two employees because he couldn’t afford to pay them, he said.

“[The fear is], you go to a Chinese restaurant, you get sick,” he said.

Chan said other Chinese restaurants have suffered a similar decline in business the past few weeks. n epidemic of the illness, he said, could have far-reaching effects for other restaurants.

“If it continues for the next six months, a lot of them will be closed,” he said.

Chan said business on Friday was slower than usual. The restaurant usually has a line on Fridays, he said, but there was only one customer around 12:30 p.m.

“After the governor came out and said something, it made things worse,” he said.

—Dan Schere

Tests done in Baltimore

Local facilities can test people for the coronavirus, but the tests have to be sent to a state lab in Baltimore for results.

The three Montgomery County patients were tested on Wednesday and results were received Thursday, according to Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said in a Friday morning press conference that it would be beneficial to be able to do testing locally.

“The advantage of the local testing is it cuts down on the window between when a person comes in for an initial test and when they can get results,” Gayles said.

He said the county can collect specimens to be tested.

—Caitlynn Peetz

Smith learns of local cases from press conference

Jack Smith, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, said he learned about the three local cases of coronavirus disease by watching a press conference on Thursday night.

Smith said state officials tried to call him in advance, but he was tied up at a meeting about the district capital improvement plan and was not available.

Smith attended a press conference on Friday morning during which Montgomery County officials talked about the local cases and their response.

—Caitlynn Peetz

***

Updated at 3:45 p.m.:

A resident’s call for prayer

At a press conference on Friday, Rockville resident Rocky Twyman held a sign with “Stop join me in prayer for God to protect MOCO from coronavirus” written on it.

Montgomery County officials held the press conference to update the public about three cases of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, in the county.

Twyman said county residents and leaders “really need to have God upfront” in dealing with a potential outbreak.

—Briana Adhikusuma

Three with coronavirus disease not suspected of contact with students

State and local officials said Thursday and Friday that they do not think three people who contracted coronavirus disease had contact with school children that would merit concern.

In a message to community members on Thursday night, about two hours after the state announced the three Montgomery County cases, Montgomery County Public Schools wrote that schools would remain open. State officials “do not believe these individuals have had contact with MCPS students,” the district’s message said.

During a Friday morning press conference, the county’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, said that “as best as I can surmise, [the three people] had very limited interaction with school-aged children.”

—Caitlynn Peetz

Call doctor in advance if symptoms arise; for prevention, wash hands, cover mouth

Pete Piringer, a spokesman for the county’s Fire and Rescue Services, said residents shouldn’t call 911 if they think they have symptoms of coronavirus — unless they are severe.

During a briefing on Tuesday, before the three local cases were confirmed, Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said anyone experiencing symptoms should contact their primary care doctor. The doctor’s office should be informed of the symptoms in advance to adequately prepare their facility and staff, Gayles said.

Symptoms include a fever, cough, shortness of breath and pneumonia, according to state and local health officials.

To prevent the disease’s spread, people should practice standard health precautions, Gayles said, like frequent hand washing, covering their mouth when coughing or sneezing, and avoiding close contact with people who are sick. People who are sick should stay home from work and school.

“Life as you know it should continue pretty much the same as before this became news, with the caveats of the precautions we’re saying you should take,” County Executive Marc Elrich said. “… What we know is what we know and the precautions are pretty straightforward. We believe life doesn’t need to be radically altered, but we need to have an awareness of what’s going on around us.”

—Caitlynn Peetz

***

Updated at 2 p.m.:

School absences will be evaluated

Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith said in an interview on Friday morning that absences for students who are kept home from school as a precaution would be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Generally, student absences are considered excused with a parent note.

As of Friday morning’s press conference, district officials said it was too early to determine if there were more absences connected to concern about coronavirus.

—Caitlynn Peetz

***

More than 40 people tested for coronavirus in Maryland

The number of people tested for coronavirus in Maryland continues to climb.

In an update on Friday, the Maryland Department of Health’s coronavirus information web page says 41 people have been tested. Of those 26 were negative. The results of another 12 tests are pending.

The state does not identify the county or city where people who get tested live.

The final three cases were positive results, all from Montgomery County residents.

—Andrew Schotz

***

Elrich: ‘No reason to panic’ about local coronavirus disease cases

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich said Friday that “there is no reason to panic” over the state’s first three cases of coronavirus disease.

Elrich encouraged the public to carry on with their daily routines, but to also be “extra careful” in how they come into contact with other people. “Stay away from people who are sick,” he said.

Elrich and Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County’s health officer, spoke at a press conference Friday morning to go over details they could share about the cases, all of which involved Montgomery County residents, and more general information about the health issues.

What they didn’t have, though, was more information about the people who contracted the virus during international travel last month.

Officials have said there was a married couple in their 70s and a woman in her 50s. The couple and woman are not related, but they all took a cruise. State and local officials have declined to give more specific descriptions of them to maintain their privacy and are not saying where the three people traveled.

Frances Phillips, the deputy secretary for public health services for the state, said Thursday night that the three people returned to Maryland on Feb. 20 after being exposed to coronavirus during their travels. The three people were tested Wednesday and the tests came back positive on Thursday.

Asked about the gap between the return trip home and the testing, Gayles said global conditions have been changing rapidly, so countries that might not have been seen as high risk in late February later were considered risky as of early March.

Gayles said Friday that the state is taking the lead in looking at where the three people went after they came back to Maryland from their trip, particularly in or around Montgomery County.

No one from the state health department was part of Friday morning’s press conference in Montgomery County.

When contacted by phone on Friday and asked for more information about the contacts the three people had, a spokesman from the state Department of Health asked a reporter to email questions.

Phillips said Thursday night that the people were “mild to moderately ill.”

Gayles said Friday that the symptoms are diminishing and noted that the three local cases were exposure through travel, not through the community, both of which are positive signs.

“This is not a crisis,” Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz said.

He encouraged people to prepare for the possibility of having to spend two weeks at home. Have a full supply of medication. Stock up on nonperishable food.

***

3/5/20

Three Montgomery County residents have contracted disease

Maryland’s first three cases of coronavirus disease are Montgomery County residents who took an international trip together, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday. He declared a state of emergency for Maryland, which has been preparing for the first cases of the disease.

State officials are not identifying the three people or pinpointing where they live, but said they are a married couple in their 70s and a woman in her 50s, who is not related to the couple.

Frances Phillips, the deputy secretary for public health services for the state, said the three people returned to Maryland on Feb. 20 after being exposed to coronavirus during their travels. The state learned on Tuesday, through the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of their possible exposure and contacted the residents on Wednesday.

The positive test results came back on Thursday, Phillips said.

Phillips said the people were “mild to moderately ill” and their symptoms are abating. In a short statement posted Thursday evening, Hogan said, “The patients, who contracted the virus while traveling overseas, are in good condition.” They were in quarantine in their homes, according to the state.

Phillips declined to reveal where the group had traveled to keep that confidential. She said the three people have been cooperative.

In an interview Thursday night, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich called the news “disturbing and unfortunate,” but said he wasn’t surprised.

Elrich said the three patients “had related experiences,” so “we’re not looking at three different sources.”

Elrich said it is his understanding that the patients contracted the virus after going on a cruise.

Hogan and Phillips led a press conference in Annapolis on Thursday night to talk about the positive test results.

In a message to community members around 10 p.m. Thursday, MCPS wrote that state officials “do not believe” the patients “have had any contact with MCPS students.” Schools will remain open at this time, the message said, but school district officials will continue to prepare for “the possibility of school closures should this become necessary.”

In a message on Wednesday, before the positive tests were known, MCPS wrote that it is preparing for the possibility of prolonged school closures as a result of the coronavirus.

Educational videos and broadcasts would be available on the school’s website and MCPS would provide instructional activities for parents to do with their children. Children without access to the internet would be provided hard copies of instructional materials.

The message on Wednesday also said that if schools were closed for a long time, MCPS is prepared to “provide meals at several schools as regional meal sites.” Information on where the sites would be had not been finalized.

Hogan said the Maryland Department of Education had issued guidance to local school districts to make school closures, if necessary.

During a press conference earlier in the day, MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith said decisions to close schools would be made on a case-by-case basis and with the guidance of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.

The department’s spokeswoman, Mary Anderson, wrote in a text message Thursday night that she did not have further information to release. Later, the county announced that Elrich will speak more about the three local coronavirus disease cases on Friday at 10 a.m. It will be shown live on the county’s website and its Facebook page.

The number of tests for COVID-19 — the name of the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus — in Maryland increased at a quicker pace this week. The state’s web page devoted to coronavirus information indicated Thursday night that there had been 17 negative tests and that 11 tests were pending. That was the latest information after the three positive test results had been noted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted on a coronavirus web page that, as of midday Thursday, there were 99 cases in the U.S. and 10 deaths. Thirteen states had reported cases. Those figures appeared to not include the three cases reported in Maryland on Thursday night.

Of the 99 cases, 30 were considered travel related, 20 were spread person to person and 49 were under investigation.

Hogan’s executive order lists higher numbers, possibly more up to date, than were posted on the CDC web page. As of Thursday, the CDC knew of 177 confirmed and presumed positive cases in the U.S., covering 17 states, the executive order says.

Coronavirus was first reported in Wuhan, China. The World Health Organization said that as of Thursday, there were more than 95,000 cases around the globe. About 85% of those were in China.

More than 3,000 deaths have been reported in China and about 270 elsewhere.

Clinical symptoms of the coronavirus disease usually include a fever, cough and shortness of breath. But the disease can range from mild symptoms to severe illness and death.

Washing hands is considered one of the most essential protective measures.

Hogan said during the press conference that the state contacted Vice President Mike Pence, who is overseeing the U.S. response to coronavirus, and the Centers for Disease Control about the positive test results. The state also has been in touch with Elrich and Montgomery County Public Schools, Hogan said.

“I don’t think there’s anything I could say that could really calm people’s nerves, and I don’t want to minimize it because it’s here,” Elrich said in an interview. “Montgomery County isn’t going to get passed by, but it’s certainly not rampant here at this point. … I would like to sound profound, but the truth is you kind of knew it would come and it would be unrealistic to think that it wouldn’t.”

County health officials will work to identify people and places the patients might have come into contact with.

“I would expect if we identify those people or places, the prudent thing would be to contact those people,” Elrich said. “You want to make sure we’re monitoring those people and getting them help before something that seems like a cold turns into something worse.”

A press release from Hogan late Thursday night says he submitted a Fiscal Year 2012 supplemental budget earlier in the day that requests $10 million for emergency coronavirus preparedness expenses. He noted his administration has introduced emergency legislation “granting him the authority to transfer resources from the state’s rainy day fund” for coronavirus response.

“While today’s news may seem overwhelming, this is not a panic,” Hogan said in the press release. “Marylanders should go to work or go to school tomorrow just as they normally would.”

He said during the press conference that various state agencies have been preparing for weeks for the possibility of coronavirus disease would show up in Maryland. The state’s departments and agencies for health, emergency medical services, emergency management, education and higher education have been among those coordinating their efforts, he said.

U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin and Chris Van Hollen issued a statement saying they’re monitoring the situation “and stand ready to support the state in any way we can.”

“The first tranche of funding through the [CDC] was announced today,” their statement says, “and Congress just passed an emergency bipartisan supplemental package to provide more funds for our state and local governments. Marylanders should continue to follow the advice of the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health and take the standard precautions, like hand washing and staying home when you are feeling sick.”

In a message to Bethesda Beat late Thursday night, Montgomery College spokesman Marcus Rosano wrote that normal operations will continue on the college’s three campuses.

School officials have been “meeting daily to ensure that our emergency operations are in place,” Rosano wrote. They are developing plans for instruction to continue if classes have to be suspended.

“Our highest priority is the health and well-being of our [Montgomery College] family,” Rosano wrote. “We understand the concern this global health issue has fostered and we are committed to keeping [community members] informed and up to date as this situation evolves.”

Coronavirus: a timeline