Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan declared a 30-day state of emergency on Tuesday to fight a surge in COVID-19 cases, mobilizing 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to help state and local health officials.
Hogan made the announcement as Maryland hit 3,057 hospitalizations for COVID-19 — a record high in the state and an increase of more than 500% in the last seven weeks. The governor said projections show that hospitalizations for virus cases could reach more than 5,000.
"The truth is that the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging of the entire pandemic," Hogan said at a news conference. "All of the emergency actions we are taking today are to keep our hospitals from overflowing, to keep our kids in school, and to keep Maryland open for business, and we will continue to take whatever actions are necessary in the very difficult days and weeks ahead."
About 250 National Guard members will be deployed to support COVID-19 testing sites across Maryland, including at hospitals and skilled nursing facilities, and to assist with patient transport.
Hogan also announced that additional National Guard soldiers will be immediately assigned to support operations at the two new state-run sites located at University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake Health in Bel Air and Anne Arundel Medical Center in Annapolis.
Maryland is opening 20 new hospital-adjacent testing sites across the state. The National Guard will help with opening these testing sites outside of hospitals across the state to meet the rising demand for testing and to divert people from visiting hospital emergency rooms to get tested.
The governor implemented the actions by signing two executive orders. Another order authorizes the state health secretary to regulate hospital personnel, bed space and supplies. That will enable the secretary to direct and expedite the transfer of patients between facilities and create alternate care sites.
The order allows interstate reciprocity for healthcare licenses, allows inactive healthcare practitioners to practice without reinstating their licenses and enables regulation of elective medical procedures as necessary.
Maryland also is authorizing booster shots for 12- to 15-year-olds.
Hogan said he was scheduled to participate in a call with the White House on Tuesday. He said he would urge President Joe Biden's administration to increase the distribution of monoclonal antibodies, rapid COVID-19 tests and antiviral pills.
Hogan said people need to get back to taking stronger precautions as the omicron variant of COVID-19 surges by "avoiding crowds, keeping your distance, washing your hands and yes, wearing the damn masks."
The governor also said that he is "doing fine" after testing positive for COVID-19 last month. Hogan said he had a 10-day "staycation" in isolation in the basement of the governor's residence, where he worked and kept in touch with staff.
"For me, it was like a pretty bad cold, and that's because I was fully vaccinated and boosted," Hogan said, as he continued urging the unvaccinated to get shot and for eligible people to get boosters.
The governor also said he received monoclonal antibody treatment early on.
Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, said Maryland hospitals are feeling the strain of the surge, with 3,006 adults and 51 children hospitalized with the virus.
"Our hospitals are struggling to deal with the numbers of sick people coming to them," Delbridge said. "As of yesterday afternoon, more than 600 people were waiting in emergency departments for their turn to be admitted to a hospital bed. In fact, our emergency departments are as busy as they have ever been."