Cecil County COVID-19 Cases Rise to 3, Local ‘Emergency’ Declared; Gov. Hogan Closes “Non-essential Business,” Offers Small Biz Aid

March 23, 2020

Cecil County now has 3 confirmed cases of the COVID-19 coronavirus, prompting County Executive Alan McCarthy to issue a “declaration of emergency” on Monday to accelerate county access to state emergency services and supplies programs. In addition, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered closure of all “non-essential businesses” while announcing several new programs to aid small business affected by the pandemic.

Speaking during a Facebook Live online press conference, McCarthy announced two new confirmed cases in Cecil County: a male in his 50s who lives in Elkton, and a female in her 40s who lives in Elkton. The first confirmed case, announced on Sunday, involved a woman in her 20s in the western area of the county. McCarthy further identified that patient’s location as the Rising Sun area. All three patients are “self-isolating at home.”

Lauren Levy, Cecil County’s Health Officer, said there were no clear ties among the confirmed patients but that public health experts were conducting contact tracing interviews to try to identify the patients’ contacts and movements to identify possible other individuals who may have had contact with them She said county residents with health concerns could contact local health experts at 410-996-1005.

She also urged residents to “remain calm” and said that most people do not need formal testing for the virus. However, she said that ChristianaCare/Union Hospital in Elkton has set up a by-appointment-only drive-through testing operation in Elkton and a similar program was being rolled out in the Perryville area.

The local institution of Union Hospital was recently taken over by ChristianaCare in Delaware, and past traditions of open communication with the local community have ended. For a week, Cecil Times has tried to obtain basic information—such as the number if Intensive Care Unit beds and life-saving mechanical ventilators at the local hospital—but with no response from the Delaware-based overseers.

However, Cecil Times has learned—from an architect’s photos of a renovation of the hospital with strong support from local donations—that an 8-bed ICU unit was created at the hospital. And other sources advised that Union has 10 mechanical ventilators, although it was unclear how many were capable of serving adult patients and how many were set aside for pediatric patients.

Given Cecil County’s population of 103,000, it is unclear if such facilities are adequate if a pandemic-level medical crisis strikes the county. Levy said it was “difficult to predict” the adequacy of hospital resources here to address the COVID-19 crisis.

Meanwhile, Richard Brooks, director of Emergency Services for the county, disclosed that the county had requested, and received, emergency supplies from the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services, such as masks, gloves, and gowns Sunday night. Supplies were distributed Monday morning to county volunteer first responders, he said.

Sheriff Scot Adams, said that correctional officers working at the Detention Center have supplies of “personal protection equipment,” such as masks and gloves. And the facility has created an emergency plan, in co-ordination with a private medical services firm that treats inmates at the facility, that Adams said could be implemented to create a 124-bed isolation unit, if necessary.

Adams also said his agency would respond to calls about social gatherings exceeding the governor’s 10-person limit. He said deputies would first seek voluntary co-operation to cease such gatherings but steps could escalate, if needed, up to arrests.

McCarthy said the county’s business community, especially small business owners and their employees, were already suffering but it was too soon to fully assess their problems and needs. “We will do everything we can to help them,” he said.

Meanwhile, Gov. Hogan announced new steps to limit business activity, while also announcing new small business aid, in the state.

As of Monday evening, Hogan mandated the closing of all “non-essential” business activity. Under definitions posted by the state, only “essential” business could continue. According to state guidelines, that designation would allow liquor stores to remain open, as well as building supply stores and “big box” retailers like Home Depot and Lowes.

But smaller, neighborhood services—such as hair and nail salons or clothing boutiques—would be shut down. Such small community-oriented services are the lifeblood of local economies, especially in more rural counties.

Hogan also announced several new programs to aid small business and their employees. He proposed up to $125 million in loans and grants to small businesses and nonprofits through the Maryland Small Business COVID-19 Emergency Relief Fund. A $75 million loan fund and a $50 million grant fund, with $1 million in grants dedicated to non-profits, will provide working capital to be used for payroll, rent, fixed-debt payments and other operating costs. Businesses and nonprofits with under 50 full- and part-time employees will be eligible, and loans will range up to $50,000 and grants up to $10,000

Governor Hogan has allocated $5 million and the Maryland Department of Labor has allocated $2 million to collaboratively launch a COVID-19 Layoff Aversion Fund, designed to keep workers on the job during the crisis. He also proposed a special $5 million fund to incentivize businesses to manufacture personal protective equipment, such as masks and gowns, and other supplies to provide needed supplies to the healthcare industry.

On direct heath care matters, Hogan ordered that all state health care facilities cease elective or non-urgent medical procedures and he announced that the state would create a new special “hospital” at the Baltimore Convention Center and the adjacent Hilton Hotel. This will be a joint partnership with the University of Maryland Medical System and the Johns Hopkins University. The governor has asked federal emergency authorities to deliver 250 beds and 50 bed packages to support the new facility.

But Hogan announced no direct state action, or expenditures, to purchase crucial supplies—like gloves, masks, gowns, respirators or mechanical ventilators for hospitals—that would directly address the immediate needs of medical professionals, hospitals and patients in the state facing a COVID-19 crisis.

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