Maryland governor orders universal coronavirus testing at nursing homes after hundreds of deaths

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BALTIMORE — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on Wednesday ordered universal coronavirus testing at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities after hundreds of deaths at those sites and calls on government to better protect its most vulnerable residents.

After ramping up testing capacity — something the state has struggled with for weeks — Hogan said he is taking a number of actions to try to stop the spread of the virus from continuing to ravage senior-living facilities across the state. The testing will include all staff and residents whether they display symptoms or not.

The Republican governor said he also was mandating that nursing homes accept the assistance of the state’s so-called strike teams, which provide help to the facilities, after reports some had been turned away. The governor said he was requiring daily evaluations by doctors of nursing home residents.

“We are increasingly concerned and quite frankly outraged that a few operators are not complying with directives from the state,” the governor said.

To help the so-called strike teams, Hogan said he was creating new so-called bridge teams, which will provide emergency clinical staffing to nursing homes that are experiencing a staffing crisis.

The bridge teams will include 260 registered nurses, the Republican governor said.

Hogan also announced the appointment of Col. Eric Allely, the state surgeon of the Maryland National Guard, to serve as an emergency safety and compliance officer for nursing homes to ensure they are complying with state law and safety protocols during this crisis.

“We are no longer just playing defense; we are going on offense against this virus, attacking it from every angle with everything we’ve got,” the governor said.

Hogan spoke during a news conference at the State House in Annapolis.

After weeks of pressure, the state has begun releasing information about infections and deaths at the state’s nursing homes. So far, nearly 50% of the state’s confirmed deaths from the coronavirus have been connected to nursing homes.

And at least six nursing homes have more than 100 cases, according to the new data.

Nursing home administrators have pressed the state to help them obtain protective equipment such as masks and gowns. They also want easier access to tests so that they can diagnose residents and staff members who may be carrying the virus.

The state has taken steps to try to limit transmission of the virus in nursing homes, but the virus has continued to spread and sicken residents. In early March, the state asked nursing homes to restrict visitors and to employee travel. By early April, the state required all nursing home workers to wear masks at all times.

Hogan also said the Eastern Shore’s poultry processing plants have emerged as hotspots for coronavirus infections and deaths. The governor said there are 262 confirmed cases of coronavirus infections among poultry workers in Maryland.

As with meat-packing plants in other parts of the country, there are concerns that the virus is sickening employees who work close together butchering and processing chickens and other poultry at plants on the Eastern Shore of Maryland, Virginia and Delaware. Meat shortages could result due to the closure of meat plants.

The state is opening a testing site at Perdue Stadium in Salisbury.

Millions of chickens in Maryland and Delaware were slated to be destroyed instead of processed due to staff shortages at the plants.

The coronavirus death toll in Maryland is nearing 1,000, as the state reported 56 new victims in Wednesday’s daily update. There have been nearly 21,000 confirmed cases in the state.

Hogan also addressed problems with the state’s unemployment website. He said the state is processing more than 700 unemployment claims an hour, but their efforts are not good enough. He said the vendor has fallen short. “They people of Maryland deserve better and the buck stops with me,” he said.

Hogan said other states are ignoring federal guidelines to wait until they have 14 days of declining coronavirus data before reopening. He said he planned to revisit where the state is with regard to reopening in May.


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