Maryland closing public schools for 2 weeks due to virus

ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Maryland is closing all public schools for two weeks in response to the coronavirus, state officials announced Thursday.

State Superintendent of Schools Karen Salmon said schools will be closed from Monday through March 27.

“It is crucial that we take immediate measures to slow the spread of COVID-19 in school communities around the state,” Salmon said. “During the time of school closure, all public school buildings and school buses will be cleaned and disinfected to prevent the spread of the virus upon the return of students and staff to school.”

The decision was announced at an afternoon news conference with Gov. Larry Hogan and other state officials. It came hours after Hogan announced the first case of community transmission of the virus in the state.

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Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips said the state was responding to a public health emergency with a coordinated response.

“These are extraordinary measures that you have heard announced today, and this is an extraordinary time,” said Deputy Health Secretary Fran Phillips. ”These are measures that have been undertaken with a great deal of consideration. … These are measures that are meant to protect Marylanders.”

Hogan also announced that he signed an executive order to cancel large gatherings. He said he has directed all senior activity centers to be closed. The governor also said he has activated the National Guard and directed the Maryland Emergency Management Agency to its highest activation level.

Hogan said a Prince George’s County resident confirmed to have the virus Wednesday night was the first community transmission of the coronavirus in Maryland. The resident had no known exposure through travel or an infected person, he said.

“The first case of COVID-19 community transmission in Maryland means we are entering a new phase of working to mitigate and limit the spread of this pandemic,” Hogan said in a statement. “What we are seeing now is what we have been anticipating and preparing for over the last several weeks.”

Hogan announced three new cases Wednesday night of the disease COVID-19, which is caused by the new virus. There have been 12 confirmed cases in Maryland.

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more serve illness, including pneumonia.

Maryland hospitals have started setting up triage tents to prepare for a potential increase in patients.

John Lazarou, a spokesman for the Greater Baltimore Medical Center, wrote in an email that tents have been deployed, though the medical center is still in preparation stages.

The University of Maryland Medical System’s COVID-19 Incident Command leadership has suggested that hospitals consider setting up their triage tents as an exercise, so staff could refresh their skills around the tent operation in case of a surge in patient volume, Michael Schwartzberg, a spokesman for the system, wrote in an email.

Leading state lawmakers have announced some precautionary steps the Maryland General Assembly is taking to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during the final weeks of its 90-day session. They include cancelling receptions that are not directly related to legislative business and postponing tours in the State House, starting Friday.

“What we’re trying to do is make some common sense adjustments to the schedule, to our operations, to take precautionary measures to limit the risk of spreading any virus,” Senate President Bill Ferguson told reporters after the session.

The vast majority of people recover from the virus. According to the World Health Organization, people with mild illness recover in about two weeks, while those with more severe illness may take three to six weeks to recover.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich told reporters Thursday he hopes educators convey to students that the next two weeks are “not a vacation period we are giving you as a bonus,” but rather a measure to keep their community safe.

“For example, if all the kids go to the mall, you’ve kind of defeated the purpose of social isolation if something like that happens,” he said. “We are trying to keep them safe.”

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