With a Christmas tree in the background, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said in a recorded message Tuesday the state will provide $130 million in emergency funding to battle the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
Hogan said $100 million will go toward addressing staffing needs at hospitals and nursing homes, with the other $30 million earmarked for purchasing COVID-19 testing kits and other resources for schools throughout the state.
The governor, who continues to work from home while quarantining after testing positive for COVID-19, said he’s experiencing “cold-like symptoms.”
“I attribute that to the fact that I have been fully vaccinated and I got the booster shot as soon as I was eligible,” he said. “I can’t stress this enough: getting fully vaccinated and getting your booster is your strongest possible defense against this virus and its variants.”
More than two weeks after a cybersecurity attack on servers at the state health department, its website provided updated statistics Tuesday, including a pandemic single-day high of 6,218 confirmed new cases.
The state’s positivity rate stood at 11.6% Tuesday and hospitalizations spiked in a 24-hour period by 47 patients up to 1,392.
However, the county’s COVID-19 death toll hasn’t been updated from 11,022 since Dec. 4, the day health department officials noticed a security breach and took servers offline.
In terms of vaccinations, the state reports 4.2 million people are fully vaccinated.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines fully vaccinated as two weeks after the final dose of either of the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines or the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Because of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has spread far faster than any other strain, health officials are pleading for everyone to get the vaccines and booster shots.
David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander at the University of Maryland Medical System and a senior medical adviser to the governor, said the ongoing pandemic has brought on “some of the most challenging times I have ever seen in health care.”
Marcozzi said that more COVID-19-related hospitalizations will result in longer lines in emergency departments, delays in surgery for other health ailments and limited availability to see a primary care doctor.
State data shows that the 9% of the state population who are unvaccinated make up 75% of COVID-19 patients in local hospitals.
“This isn’t just a COVID problem anymore,” Marcozzi said. “COVID-19 is limiting the ability to care for many other illnesses and surgical problems, too.”
In terms of COVID-19 testing, the state health department continues to push for distributing 500,000 at-home rapid tests at the Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport and through local health departments.
Additionally, the department plans to expand testing operations to six days a week at its two sites in Prince George’s and Anne Arundel counties.
Prince George’s COVID Update
Earlier in the day, Prince George’s officials held a press conference to encourage residents to remain vigilant against COVID-19.
So far, about 90% of residents 65 and older are fully vaccinated, as are 78% of residents 18 and older and 72% of those 5 and older.
However, the statewide increase in confirmed cases led PGCPS CEO Monica Goldson to announce Friday the closure of more than 200 school buildings for students and switching back to virtual learning through Dec. 24, when the winter break begins, and from Jan. 3-14 when students return.
In one week, Goldson said, 994 students and 261 teachers tested positive. Approximately 16,778 students and 492 staff members have been quarantined.
Students are expected to return to the schools on Jan. 18.
“This is a temporary halt to in-person learning. It is not a halt to meaningful teaching,” she said. “I still believe that our schools are the best places to ensure that nothing replaces the dynamic between students, teachers and their classmates in our classrooms. I will continue to follow science and I know that learning will stay in motion.”
Dr. Ernest Carter, the county’s chief health officer, said the omicron variant accounted for 0.4% of all cases nationwide two weeks ago. Today, it’s now at 73%.
Carter said patients hospitalized for COVID-19 in the county increased from 116 on Thursday to 145 on Sunday.
He said health workers are equipped to handle the surge because of the availability of vaccines, health data and the thousands of residents who’ve already been vaccinated.
“We know the storm is coming, but the good news about this particular storm [is that] we are prepared for it,” he said.
As of 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Prince George’s is the only public school system in the state that has completely reverted to virtual learning amid the recent spate of coronavirus cases.