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Officials look for way to slow transmission of coronavirus –

by Judith Hruz


The only thing that has been certain since the first confirmed cases of coronavirus in Maryland is that information, cancellations and concern are rampant during the ever-evolving public health threat.

Gov. Larry Hogan announced the first three patients of COVID-19 — a couple in their 70s and a woman in her 50s, all Montgomery County residents — on the evening of March 5. One week later, on March 12, he ordered all public schools in the state to close March 16 through March 27, no large public gatherings, and other sweeping guidelines and directives.

The order came after he announced that a patient in Prince George’s County contracted the virus in some way other than by traveling outside the country.

The first three patients had taken a cruise on the Nile River.

The patient, whose case was first announced March 11, is a Prince George’s County resident who had no known exposure to coronavirus through travel or an infected individual, the governor reported. It was first case of community transmission of COVID-19 in Maryland, Hogan said.

As of press time, 32 cases of patients with COVID-19 had been reported in Maryland.

Twelve of the patients are from Montgomery County, but three of those patients have been cleared of the disease.

It is also certain that confusion reigns among some residents and that governments, organizations, medical facilities and houses of worship — nearly everyone — are making decision on closings and cancellations based on an abundance of caution.

Saying the state is now in “a new phase of this crisis,” Hogan said that during the shutdown of schools, all school buildings will be cleaned and disinfected..

In addition to schools, all senior centers will be closed.

He also signed an executive order to activate the Maryland National Guard to move it to a higher state of readiness.

Public access to state buildings will be restricted; events will be canceled; the cruise ship terminal will be closed, except for two ships expected to return soon; expiration dates of state-issued documents such as driver’s licenses will be extended until 30 days after the state of emergency ends; all hospitals must enact tighter visitor policies; and visitors will be restricted at prisons.

Hogan issued the order that “social, community, spiritual, religious, recreational, leisure and sporting gatherings and events of more than 250 people are hereby prohibited at all locations and venues, including but not limited to parades, festivals, conventions and fundraisers.”

He told Maryland residents that the closures and changes “will be disruptive to your everyday lives,” but said, “we are all in this together” and cannot stop the spread of COVID-19 without working together.

He urged residents to go about their normal routines as best as possible.


Catholic Archdiocese follows Hogan directives


Following Hogan’s action to close all public schools and suspend large gatherings, Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Catholic Archdiocese of Washington announced that Masses open to the public in all archdiocesan parishes, missions and campus ministries would not be celebrated starting March 14, until further notice.

He said that weddings and funerals may proceed, but should be limited to immediate family.

The archbishop also followed public safety directives made by Hogan and state superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon and closed all Catholic schools in the archdiocese – which includes the District of Columbia and the five surrounding Maryland counties of St. Mary’s, Charles, Calvert, Prince George’s and Montgomery – from March 16 through March 27.

The archbishop added, “We are profoundly saddened that we are not able to celebrate our sacraments as a community for the time being.”

Washington’s archbishop also said he has made available pastoral and spiritual resources, as well as the TV Mass on the archdiocese website. He invite the community to join for Mass and prayer via livestream on social media.

The archbishop also issued a dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass during the time that Masses are suspended to all parishioners of the archdiocese.

The Archdiocese of Washington has a special web page at adw.org/coronavirus offering the latest updates on the situation.


Montgomery County closely follows state mandates


Montgomery County officials announced closures and cancellations, in large part based on the state’s recommendations and mandates.

At a press conference held two hours after the governor’s announced his sweeping guidelines at 4 p.m. March12, County Executive Marc Elrich was joined by Montgomery County Council President Sidney Katz, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) Superintendent Jack Smith, county Public Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles and other county leaders to provide residents with an update on the COVID-19 response.

Elrich announced that based on the state school superintendent’s guidance, all public schools would be closed until 27.

By press time, MCPS officials did not have plans to make up those days.

Other county directives, which are designed to try to slow down the spread of the disease, include:

Montgomery County recreation centers and programs will be cancelled beginning March 16.

Montgomery County Public Libraries will close all branches beginning March 16.

Montgomery Parks programs and indoor facilities will close until March 31.

Starting March 16, county government workers are using a telework schedule for employees who can and consider other social distancing and protective measures for employees who have direct contact with the public.

Montgomery County is following the state’s guidelines of a limit of no more than 250 people for public gatherings.


Local community dealing with ever-changing situation


Locally, empty shelves that once held disinfectant and toilet paper greeted shoppers at grocery stores.

“We’ve been very busy. It’s just like before Thanksgiving, but it has been like that every single day,” said Debbie Marion, assistant manager of Giant Food in Olney.

She said shoppers were buying hand sanitizer, Lysol and other cleaning products, toilet paper, soup and canned goods.

Several cashiers were wiping down the belts, order separation bars and pin pads.

“They have been instructed to sanitize after every customer,” Marion said.

Beloved events such as the Greater Olney Civic Association’s annual Awards Ceremony on March 15 was canceled and Sherwood High School’s Rockville ‘n’ Roll Revival 49, scheduled to go on for a second weekend of shows March 13-15, was canceled.

GOCA did not rule out another opportunity to honor the award recipients. Sherwood will not reschedule its music and dance revue, the director said.

Brooke Grove Retirement Village has cancelled all public seminars, classes and events on its campus through the end of March in keeping with the Centers for Disease Control’s recommendations that those 60 and over avoid large gatherings and stay at home as much as possible in order to avoid exposure to the coronavirus, according to its website.

In accordance with Hogan’s actions prohibiting public events of more than 250 people, Olney Theatre Center announced that performances of “The Amateurs” would continue as scheduled through the weekend of March 13-15 in the 150-seat Mulitz-Gudelsky Theatre Lab, but would reassess the situation on March 16 and “make the best decision we can for our audience, artists and staff,” Managing Director Debbie Ellinghaus and Artistic Director Jason Loewith wrote in a letter to patrons.

In the meantime, the theater center relaxed its exchange policy, was sanitizing seats in its Theatre Lab between performances, was limiting its audience size to less than the 150-seat capacity, requiring that is ushers wear gloves and more.

MedStar Montgomery Medical Center President Thomas J. Senker said the hospital is committed to protecting and supporting the health and well-being of the Olney and Montgomery County community.

He said the hospital is actively monitoring the evolving status of the coronavirus and that its team “remains in a constant state of readiness for treating complex illness, including COVID-19.”

“Our clinicians at MedStar Montgomery Medical Center are well prepared to accurately screen for risk of COVID-19 and respond immediately to prevent further spread,” Senker says in a prepared statement. “We are following the guidance of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) so that patients affected by COVID-19 will be able to get the care they need while protecting the health and safety of our associates and the community at large.”

MedStar Montgomery spokeswoman Tonja Paylor said hospital officials are directing people to visit MedStarMontgomery.org for the most up to date information regarding COVID-19. The website is being updated regularly, as new information becomes available.

As of press time, MedStar Montgomery did not have the capability to test patients for COVID-19, as testing sites are controlled by the state, she said. The hospital is, however, able to screen patients, and direct them where to go for further treatment.

Paylor said patients with concerns are encouraged to first call their doctor for screening. If further screening is required, the doctor will direct them to one of the approved sites.

She could not comment on whether MedStar Montgomery’s Emergency Department had seen an increase in patients, citing privacy concerns.


Beware of scams


The Federal Trade Commission has reported that scammers are taking advantage of fears surrounding the coronavirus, including through the sale of counterfeit products and the solicitation of money and personal information.

When charities request donations in response to the coronavirus, Marylanders may feel duty-bound to donate in an effort to help their neighbors, but Maryland Secretary of State John C. Wobensmith and Attorney General Brian E. Frosh are cautioning Marylanders to be vigilant and to donate wisely.

“Be sure you know who you are giving to, and remember it is always best to give directly to well-established, reputable charitable organizations,” Wobensmith says in a press release issued March 13.

The Office of the Secretary of State registers and regulates charitable organizations that solicit charitable contributions in Maryland. Together with the Attorney General’s Office, the Secretary of State’s Office works to ensure that charitable contributions go to qualified charitable organizations and are used for their intended purpose.

“It is always wise to research the charity first before donating, and avoid any charity or fundraiser that is reluctant to give information on how donations are used,” Frosh says in the press release.

For more tips on how to give wisely, Marylanders can visit the Maryland Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Division publication, “Consumer Edge Charitable Giving Tips.”

The Office of the Secretary of State maintains a public registry of charitable organizations authorized to solicit in Maryland. For more information and to search the registry, visit sos.maryland.gov.

Anyone who thinks he or she has been a victim of a deceptive or illegal charitable solicitation should contact the Charities and Legal Services Division of the Secretary of State’s Office at 410-974-5521 or 800-825-4510.


    For more information, visit:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) at www.cdc.gov

    Maryland Department of Health (NIH) at www.health.maryland.gov

    Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services at www.montgomerycountymd.gov

    National Institutes of Standards and Technology at www.nih.gov


    Staff Writer Terri Hogan contributed to this article.

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