Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced an executive order Wednesday for customers to wear masks or other face coverings when at grocery stores and other retail businesses to decrease the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The order, which goes into effect at 7 a.m. Saturday, includes employees to wear masks and commuters on public transportation. Those businesses must also implement social distancing measures.
At least four jurisdictions in Maryland — Anne Arundel, Charles, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties — implemented local measures prior to the state order for people to wear masks at grocery stores and retail businesses.
“This is really another important step in our immediate efforts to protect public health and safety,” Hogan said. “The wearing of masks is also something that we may have to become more accustomed to safely reopen our state.”
Although the number of confirmed coronavirus cases continues to rise in Maryland — currently at slightly more than 10,000, with about 350 deaths — there’s “light at the end of the tunnel,” the Republican governor said.
That’s because the rates are lower than health experts and officials anticipated, Hogan said. He praised the actions of local officials and residents are adhering to the executive orders that include no major social gatherings and staying at home.
His proposed four-part “recovery plan” includes:
• Expanding testing capability up to 10,000 tests per day.
• Increasing hospital surge capacity by 6,000 beds.
• Ramping up supply of PPE (personal protective equipment) that includes an additional delivery of 4.5 million N-95 masks, 290 oxygen concentrators and 252 ICU ventilators.
• Increasing the 250 people currently investigating positive cases up to 1,000 known as “contact tracers” that will include state employees and contractors.
A more formal plan will be reviewed and discussed next week.
“If the recovery is not done in a thoughtful and responsible way, it would not only cost lives it would deepen the economic crisis and actually prolong the problems and slow down the recovery,” he said. “Everybody wants to get back to normal … but we want to do it in a safe and smart way.”
Hogan, who chairs the National Governors Association, said the federal government and its agencies must assist in the recovery effort.
“Without sufficient federal investment, we will be unable to do all of the things that we’re being asked to do,” he said. “States could be forced to confront the prospect of devastating budget reduction to essential services and potential layoffs which could hinder our abilities to provide necessary services … and severely limit our collective efforts to get people back to work.”
The majority Black jurisdiction of Prince George’s County remains the hardest hit location with more than 2,400 confirmed cases. According to county data, 400 of the 647 people hospitalized so far are Blacks.
The Prince George’s County Council, sitting as the Board of Health, held a briefing Tuesday and heard hospital representatives explain how they are seeing an increase of coronavirus patients.
Min Goodwin, chief operating officer of University of Maryland Capital Region Health, said the Cheverly hospital would need 287 more beds by April 25. It currently has 385.
By April 24, she said, about 90 more beds will be needed when Laurel Hospital reopens.
Paul Grenaldo, president of Doctors Community Hospital in Lanham, said 50 percent of the patients at the more than 200-bed hospital are coronavirus-related. The hospital has 24 critical care beds, but 36 are still need.
Although another 51 beds will be added this week at the closed Magnolia Nursing Home next door, Grenaldo said tents have been set up outside the hospital because of the patient surge in Prince George’s.
“We’re the eye of the storm … based on what the models are showing us,” he said. “We’re going to continue to need access to PPE. We’re going to continue to need access to staff. Right now, I’m only staffed for my 200 beds, but if I go to 500 beds, then I don’t have all those nurses here. That’s where the real crisis will come. I don’t have a place for everybody.”