As covid hospitalizations ramp up across the state, Gov. Larry Hogan this week took action to combat the spread, but warned that the worst may still be to come.

“The truth is that the next six weeks will be the most challenging time of the entire pandemic,” Hogan said during a news conference Tuesday. “The newest projections as of today covid hospitalizations could reach more than 5,000 ... While we are hoping for the best, we are actively preparing for the worst.”

Hogan on Tuesday issued a 30-day state of emergency to “take urgent, short term actions to combat the current crisis.”

The order mobilized 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to assist state and local officials with pandemic response, which includes helping open 20 testing sites outside of hospitals across the state.

Travis Brown, the public affairs officer for the Worcester County Health Department, said in an email Wednesday that officials expanded hours for regular weekly drive-through testing in Snow Hill and are looking for more testing sites across the county.

“There’s no word yet on whether the National Guard will be setting up shop in Worcester but we have a fantastic and open dialog with the state, so if they head down to the shore, we will be sure to get the word out immediately,” he said.

Brown and officials at Atlantic General Hospital have also advised against going to the emergency room or contacting emergency service personnel for covid tests.

“We want to remind everyone that, while we know testing is important, we’re hearing reports of our local emergency departments dealing with a high volume of people coming in for tests,” Brown said. “That’s generally not an emergency, so we want to encourage residents to look into other testing locations such as our weekly options, their primary care doctor, pharmacies, and walk-in clinics.”

This week, people waited in lines for hours outside of doctors’ offices and health facilities around Ocean City for tests, and at-home tests were scarce on pharmacy shelves.

Along with the deployment of the National Guard members, Hogan’s newest pandemic response includes directing and expediting the transfer of patients between health facilities as needed, establishing alternative care sites, allowing inactive health care practitioners to practice without reinstating their licenses and authorizing graduate nurses to work at any health care facility.

Hogan also announced an indoor mask mandate at all state buildings on Monday and said officials are “strongly encouraging” face coverings in other indoor settings as well.

He also continues to encourage vaccinations, as the majority hospitalized individuals have not been fully vaccinated.

Studies show that the omicron variant, which is reportedly the most contagious strain of the virus so far and responsible for many of the covid cases now across the country, produces milder symptoms in vaccinated patients.

This story appears in the Jan. 7, 2022 print version of the OC Today.

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