Gov. Larry Hogan declared a state of emergency Thursday evening as a result of the first three positive tests for the new coronavirus from three Montgomery County residents.
The residents are a couple in their 70s and a third person in their 50s who were overseas on the same trip, Hogan said. Their symptoms seem to be abating and they are moderately sick. They are not hospitalized.
All three of them are in isolation and are not leaving their homes, said Fran Phillips, deputy secretary of public health services. They have been cooperative in sharing details of their trip and who they interacted with, Phillips said. More details are expected Friday, but Phillips said officials “want to understand exactly where they went and who they interacted with.”
They returned home on Feb. 20 and were tested on March 3 at a hospital. For confidentiality reasons, Phillips would not disclose where the three people had traveled. The state health department called ahead to let the hospital know that the three people were coming so staff could prepare. Once they had been tested, they returned home.
While Hogan stressed the need for Maryland residents to be prepared, he added they should go about their daily routines and go to work and school as normal.
“This news may seem overwhelming, but it is not a reason to panic,” he said.
The state of emergency authorizes the Maryland Department of Health and Maryland Emergency Management Agency to ramp up coordination among state and local agencies and fast-track coordination with state and local health departments and emergency management teams. It also opens up more opportunities for obtain federal funding to address treatment and prevention of the coronavirus.
Hogan announced late last week, that he would be including $10 million in the supplemental budget to address the state's response. He also proposed emergency legislation that authorizes up to $50 million be pulled from the state's so-called rainy day fund if necessary — a move which he said seems to have bipartisan support.
The state has been preparing for a positive case for some time now, Hogan said. Having a positive case was not unexpected, Phillips said.
Hogan also said the Maryland State Department of Education has issued guidance to school local systems regarding authority to close schools if necessary. And the Maryland Higher Education Commission is coordinating to potentially bring students home from study abroad programs or cancel other overseas travel plans.
Having the Maryland Public Health Laboratory testing samples means results are delivered quicker than when the state had to send samples to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Phillips said.
As of Thursday morning, 31 Maryland residents were being tested.
It is unclear if any of the other cases being tested are in Frederick County. Like with the flu, the Maryland Department of Health will not release the county locations of people being tested, saying releasing the county could identify the person, spokesman Charlie Gischlar said in an email.
“Per MDH policies and law surrounding confidentiality, patient information is not disclosed,” Gischlar said in the email.
Other states do not have the same policy.
Maryland House of Delegates and Senate leaders Sen. Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore) and Del. Adrienne Jones (D-Baltimore County) said they appreciated the health department’s response to the cases.
“We have the best health professionals in the world and have complete confidence in the ability of the medical community and the State and Local governments to work together to contain the effects of the COVID-19 virus,” Jones and Ferguson said in a joint statement.
Before the first positive case, Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, Frederick County health officer, said in an email that the risk of contracting COVID-19, which is the official name of the disease caused by the new coronavirus, would depend on the circumstances.
It would make a difference if the person had returned from an area where there were widespread infections in a community, but then stayed home upon arrival and did not come in contact with anyone, for example, Brookmyer previously said.
And risk for others will continue to depend on exposure, she said.
“For example, if someone never leaves one’s house, then even the neighbors would not be expected to have met the definition of ‘close contact,’” she said in the email.
Now that a case has been identified in Maryland, actions will be taken to identify the source of the person’s infection and determine where the person had been and who might have had contact with the person while they were infectious, Brookmyer said.
Other actions will be dependent on the source of the person’s illness and those the person came in contact with while infectious.
It is flu season, Phillips said, so others might question if their flu-like symptoms are due to the coronavirus. Symptoms of the disease are generally a temperature of at least 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit, a cough and trouble breathing, she said. If people do decide to get tested, Phillips asked that they call before visiting a health care provider so that health care provider can help them decide what to do and so the health care provider is prepared.