BALTIMORE — Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Tuesday visited the Baltimore Convention Center, where instead of a nonprofit technology conference previously scheduled for the 300,000-square-foot exhibition floor, the facility is preparing to become a makeshift hospital.
It’s part of Maryland’s far-reaching efforts to raise its count of hospital beds by 6,000 in response to the coronavirus pandemic. With 29 hospitalized virus patients so far, Maryland’s statewide capacity currently is 9,400 existing beds, 1,800 acute care units and 275 intensive care beds.
Mr. Hogan has asked the Federal Emergency Management Agency for 250 bed packages for the convention center and the nearby Hilton Hotel, which will be converted into an “alternate care site.” The state also had the University of Maryland Medical System agree to reopen Laurel Regional Hospital in Prince George’s County.
“Ramping up 70% capacity in our hospital system and 6,000 beds is quite a huge undertaking,” Mr. Hogan told reporters. “This is a big part of it.”
The push to prepare as many beds as possible, Maryland’s “hospital surge plan,” has parallels elsewhere around the region. Mary Washington Hospital is converting a parking garage in Fredericksburg, Virginia, into a field hospital for emergency overflow.
Mr. Hogan is far from the only governor nationwide to call on his state’s national guard, and the Army Corps of Engineers is also getting involved — choosing four locations in and around New York City, the epicenter of the virus in the U.S., to open temporary hospitals.
Maryland rose to 349 confirmed cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and announced its fourth death from the virus, a Prince George’s County man in his 60s. There are also 141 confirmed cases in the District and 254 in Virginia as of Tuesday, according to Johns Hopkins University’s online virus tracker.
Baltimore’s Johns Hopkins and UMMS are partnering with state and local governments to work on arranging the new pop-up hospitals.
“No one is trying to take the lead. They’re all working together,” Mr. Young said. “They’re all coming to the table … So we’re doing everything that we can with the city and working with our partners around the state.”
Opening Laurel Regional Hospital, meanwhile, will free up another 135 beds. Laurel Hospital closed its inpatient services in 2015, and eventually UMMS took ownership and planned to construct and open a smaller facility at the site.
In a statement, a UMMS spokesperson said it is “fully supportive” of all the state’s efforts to increase capacity but did not divulge when Laurel will be ready.
“UMMS is well-positioned to meet the health care needs of the community and we will continue to prioritize system resources to address this pandemic,” the spokesperson told The Washington Times.
The state has also called for a “pilot assessment location” at FedEx Field in Landover, Maryland. The Maryland National Guard has set up beige tents in one parking lot behind the Washington Redskins’ home stadium, where eventually, citizens could be screened for COVID-19. But the location isn’t operational yet.
While in Baltimore, Mr. Hogan, a Republican, and Mr. Young, a Democrat, also spent time at the Greenmount Recreation Center handing out boxed lunches to those in need.
Mr. Hogan gave an interview on CNN earlier Tuesday morning and said the messaging coming from the Trump administration, touting the importance of social distancing while also aiming to re-open the country’s economy, was “confusing” and contradicted itself.
“I’m as anxious as anybody to get the economy back up and running,” Mr. Hogan later said in Baltimore. “We’ve got this dual mission of trying to save people’s lives and keep them safe and also, economically, we want to get business back up, get people back in their jobs. And we’re trying to do both of them as quickly as we can.”
Mr. Young, meanwhile, wanted the White House to consider bailing out U.S. cities.
“They’re bailing out the corporations, but who’s bailing out the cities that’s gonna have this big tab of revenue loss? I’m calling on the federal government, particularly our president, to put forward a stimulus package for cities so we can get that support that we need.”
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