ANNAPOLIS, Md. — On Tuesday, Governor Larry Hogan declared a 30-day State of Emergency to combat a record rise in new COVID-19 cases.
Currently there are 3,057 people in Maryland hospitalized with the virus, an increase of more than 500 percent over the last seven weeks.
"The next four to six weeks will be the most challenging time of the entire pandemic," said Hogan.
State projections show that COVID hospitalizations could reach more than 5,000 in that time.
Along with the declaration, Hogan signed two executive orders to help the overwhelmed hospitals and EMS workforce.
He authorized the Maryland Department of Health secretary to direct and expedite the transfer of patients between hospitals, establish alternate care facilities and regulate elective surgeries.
It also makes it possible for nurses to practice across state lines, and lets health care practitioners work with expired licenses. Graduate nurses also have the green light to work at healthcare facilities to provide full nursing services, and providers are cleared to work outside the scope of their license during the emergency.
Hogan also mobilized 1,000 National Guard members to assist health officials with the state’s emergency response.
About 250 of them will be deployed to support COVID-19 testing sites at hospitals, nursing facilities, and to assist with patient transports. Others will be sent to the state’s two new testing sites at Upper Chesapeake in Bel Air and Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis. Each are accepting walk-ups seven days a week from 9am-3pm.
With the Guard's help, the state plans to open 20 new testing sites outside hospitals to meet rising demand for testing and redirect people from visiting emergency rooms for non-emergencies.
Ten of the locations were announced January 6.
Another site will soon open at St. Agnes Hospital in Baltimore, where FEMA will provide staffing support. Hogan said he expects the state to receive another 500,000 at-home rapid tests sometime next week.
Hogan, who is newly recovered from COVID-19, once again encouraged people to get vaccinated.
"For me, it was like a pretty bad cold because I was vaccinated and boosted. I’m thankful for that," said Hogan.
Data from last year shows 75 percent of Maryland residents who tested positive for COVID were not fully vaccinated. Nearly 84 percent of those hospitalized and more than 84 percent of those who died were not fully vaccinated either.
The FDA has approved COVID-19 booster shots from Pfizer for children ages 12 through 15. Boosters can be given five months after receiving the second dose of either Pfizer or Moderna, per the CDC.
To date, 33 percent of 5 to 11-year-old's in Maryland have been vaccinated.
Thus far Hogan has resisted reimposing statewide indoor mask mandates, despite several jurisdictions already doing so.
On Monday, the Governor did issue an order requiring masks be worn inside all state owned and leased buildings.
“It’s important for Marylanders to go back to using common sense and doing the things that will keep us safe: avoiding crowds, keeping your distance, washing your hands, and yes—once again—wearing the damn masks,” said Hogan.
Currently, no jurisdictions in the state have crowd restrictions.
Some school systems such as Baltimore City have pushed back their return from winter break, to allow staff and students the opportunity to get tested before coming back to class. Others like Baltimore County are temporarily transitioning certain schools back to virtual learning.