**FILE** Courtesy of covidlink.maryland.gov

Maryland’s health department said Wednesday that 2,046 residents are currently hospitalized with COVID-19, the highest figure since the coronavirus pandemic began in early 2020.

The department also reported 10,873 new cases over a 24-hour period and a positivity rate of 19.3%.

Because of the spike in cases and hospitalizations, the state judiciary announced court operations will be scaled back until Feb. 8, including the suspension of jury trials.

However, trials underway will continue until they are completed. Additionally, specific cases in district and circuit courts that deal with civil and criminal proceedings may be done remotely or in person.

“As throughout the pandemic, the health and safety of the public, judges, and judiciary staff remain our top priority,” Court of Appeals of Maryland Chief Judge Joseph M. Getty said in a statement. “In an abundance of caution and through consultation with state leadership, I have made the necessary decision to revert back to Phase III operations.”

Gov. Larry Hogan also released a statement reiterating previous emergency actions such as the state providing $100 million to address staffing shortages at hospitals and nursing homes and $30 million in COVID-19 testing kits and other resources for schools.

Although 1.5 million booster shots have been administered, the state reported Wednesday that 30 more Marylanders died from the virus over the most recent 24-hour period to increase the state’s death toll to 11,467 since the pandemic’s outset.

“As we have been projecting, our statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations have now reached record levels and surpassed 2,000 — a surge driven primarily by unvaccinated patients,” the Republican governor said. “It cannot be stressed enough that getting vaccinated and getting boosted are your strongest possible defenses against this virus and its variants.”

At least three Democratic gubernatorial candidates want Hogan’s administration to do more.

Former U.S. Education Secretary John King Jr., one of those three candidates, said the governor should declare a state of emergency.

It would “take advantage of the additional flexibility and support that declaration would bring, use every tool at his disposal to increase testing capabilities, close the booster gap between Black and white Marylanders and keep us all safe as we face down one of our most challenging phases of the pandemic,” King said in a statement.

“Governor Hogan is currently passing the buck to local leaders across Maryland and failing to lead — one of his most basic duties as our governor,” he said.

Baltimore author and former nonprofit executive Wes Moore, another Democratic gubernatorial hopeful, released a plan for the governor’s office to procure COVID-19 tests, improve communication and coordination with local health officials and ensure workers who test positive can take time off from work to recover.

Another part of Moore’s plan would be for the state to leverage federal funding and provide a one-time $500 stipend to “hardworking” families, especially those in underserved communities, to purchase groceries, pay for child care and other needs.

“My focus is on the action steps that the governor needs to get done to help families through this crisis,” he said. “In this moment, we need to rely on the public health experts. If they recommend that we reinstate the public health emergency, it is something that the governor should consider.”

Comptroller Peter Franchot, who is also making a bid for the Democratic nomination, released a statement Wednesday night calling for the governor to declare a state of emergency.

With COVID-19 cases rising, Franchot said the state should issue $2,000 “survival checks to our lowest-earning families.” In addition, provide financial assistance to child care providers and small businesses, especially those owned by women and minorities.
He said the money could come from the state’s $6 billion surplus.

“As we experience some of the most uncertain days of this pandemic, it is imperative that we meet the moment with leadership equal to our crisis,” he said. ‘It is vital that Maryland’s leadership has a unified response against COVID-19.”

Prince George’s County continues to lead the state in confirmed cases with more than 121,000.

Dr. Ernest Carter, the county’s chief health officer, said in a statement that hospitalizations increased by 27% since last week. The more than 200 patients in local hospitals Monday marks the highest total since February.

Carter implored for all residents ages 5 and older to get vaccinated and anyone 16 and older to receive a booster shot.

“It will save your life,” he said. “The more people who are vaccinated and boosted will help ease the growing strain on the ability of hospitals to provide timely, high-quality care to patients with or without COVID-19.”

Coverage for the Washington Informer includes Prince George’s County government, school system and some state of Maryland government. Received an award in 2019 from the D.C. Chapter of the Society of...

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