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Hogan moves to increase hospital staff capacity amid elevated coronavirus numbers


Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said Tuesday the state is taking steps to address a looming shortage of hospital beds and an even graver shortage of doctors and nurses to staff them as the region braces for a winter coronavirus surge.

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Maryland has 1,583 people in the hospital being treated for the virus, the highest number the state has seen since early May. The rising number comes as public health experts are sounding the alarm that the situation is expected to get worse.

In recent weeks, Maryland has recorded a rise in hospitalizations and in its coronavirus test positivity rate. The seven-day average has jumped to 7.33 percent, fueled in part by a surge in rural parts of the state. Somerset County on the Eastern Shore has a test positivity rate of nearly 20 percent, while Garrett and Allegany counties in Western Maryland are approaching 15 percent.

The seven-day average number of new cases across Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia on Tuesday stood at 4,775 infections - down slightly from a high of 4,989 recorded on Thanksgiving Day.

Hogan said Tuesday the state Department of Health is working with the Maryland Hospital Association to recruit medical personnel and support staff at the state's hospitals. The facilities are in need of staff to provide screening, testing and treatment for coronavirus patients.

The state is also asking universities to award academic credit to students willing to work at hospitals during the pandemic and to let graduating students receive early licensing, the governor said.

A report from the Maryland Health Department last week showed the dire direction in which the state is headed. It found enough staff for 1,846 beds for coronavirus patients, and more than 85 percent of those beds were occupied.

Hogan asked hospitals to submit a "patient surge" plan, which includes a detailed strategy for increasing hospital bed and staffing capacities. The state Department of Health must receive the plans by Dec. 8.

There were 3,500 patients across Maryland, Virginia and D.C. hospitalized Tuesday with the coronavirus, up from 1,636 one month earlier. The number of virus-related deaths has also risen across the greater Washington region, with the seven-day average standing at 45 new daily fatalities to start the month, compared to 20 on Nov. 1.

The state is also requiring hospitals to expand staffed bed capacity by 10 percent within seven days if 8,000 patients become hospitalized statewide. As of Monday, there were a total of 6,780 patients in the state's hospitals.

A Nov. 13 modeling estimate from Johns Hopkins Medicine - which accurately predicted 1,400 coronavirus patients in Maryland would be hospitalized by Thanksgiving - outlined four scenarios for the winter surge and its impact on the state's health care system.

Just one model, called the "optimistic scenario," predicts the state will have enough beds. It calls that scenario, showing a peak of 5,000 people hospitalized with the coronavirus around February, "highly unlikely" based on the rapid ascent of cases now.

A "moderate scenario" model predicts a peak of more than 8,000 patients by February, and a "pessimistic" one predicts 10,000. Maryland has about 10,000 beds statewide for all patients, and as of Wednesday, about half were available for coronavirus patients.

The "catastrophic scenario" predicted "peak hospitalization levels of about 15,000 patients, assuming no further modifications of (the public's) behavior."

As the Washington area stares down the beginning of a winter surge, officials across the region continue to urge residents who traveled during the Thanksgiving holiday to get tested. Hogan has continued to home in on the message of avoiding large crowds, wearing masks and getting tested.

In recent weeks, he has imposed a number of restrictions, including requiring bars and restaurants in Maryland to close at 10 p.m. for dine-in service and reducing capacity allowed in retail stores, religious facilities, fitness centers, personal service facilities and bowling alleys to 50 percent. He also limited visits to nursing homes.

Before the holiday, Hogan announced an "all-hands-on-deck" effort to ensure that bars and restaurants adhered to restrictions. State police were directed to be a part of enforcement normally handled by local police and health departments.

The Washington region on Tuesday reported 5,126 new cases and 68 additional deaths. Maryland had 2,765 cases and 32 deaths, Virginia had 2,228 cases and 31 deaths, and D.C. had 133 cases and five deaths.

Published : December 02, 2020

By : The Washington Post · Ovetta Wiggins, Erin Cox