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Maryland emergency rooms becoming overwhelmed, health authorities warn

“Yesterday we surpassed 2,000 COVID inpatients in Maryland hospitals," reported Maryland Hospital Association President Bob Atlas.

LANHAM, Md. — County health authorities in Maryland are now reporting the biggest spike in hospitalizations since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. They are making urgent appeals to avoid emergency rooms for relatively minor complaints.

Maryland’s Hospital Association issued an urgent appeal to Governor Larry Hogan for a limited public health emergency declaration.

“Yesterday we surpassed 2,000 COVID inpatients in Maryland hospitals," reported Maryland Hospital Association President Bob Atlas. "That's the highest number we've had since the start of the pandemic.”

Atlas reported that four Maryland Hospitals are operating under "crisis standards" according to the state's Hospital Association.

“Our staffs are depleted both in terms of actual numbers of people who are available to care for people in the hospital as well as just their energy level," Atlas added. “The majority about three-quarters of our patients in hospitals right now with COVID are unvaccinated. So we have that fraction of our population that is not vaccinated and they are the most vulnerable.”

In a statement, Governor Larry Hogan said Maryland National Guard soldiers will be deployed to assist with testing while financial aid is being directed to hospitals.

Prince George’s County’s Public Health officer Dr. Ernest Carter described the number of new COVID cases as "astronomical", which he said has resulted in a high number of hospitalizations despite good vaccination rates.

Carter is imploring residents in the region to avoid going to emergency rooms in search of COVID testing or for relatively minor issues that could be handled at an urgent care facility or even a retail pharmacy.

“Our emergency rooms are really becoming overwhelmed," Carter said.

“The emergency rooms are critical for getting people who really need that help not just COVID but people who have other illnesses who need urgent leave to be seen in the emergency room and to be admitted," Carter explained. "These numbers are not going to go down anytime soon. They're going to go up. So please, we're just asking the public not to overwhelm our emergency rooms in the region."

In Montgomery County Maryland, County Executive Marc Elrich echoed the concerns by asking residents to avoid emergency room visits for all but the most serious health issues.

Due to the ongoing surge in patients at hospitals, the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps (MRC) has helped fill the need for assistance in areas around the state.

"We’re at Annapolis. We’re in Prince Georges County helping out with testing and it’s looking like it’s going to grow," said MRC Coordinator Jonathan Caudle. "We have more need than we do staff. The volunteers are going out in their free time to help out.”

The MRC is made up of health professionals, like nurses and doctors, and can respond to health sites and facilities that need help with managing care.

Recently, Caudle said hundreds of volunteers have been on the front lines and primarily assisted with testing. 

"We can get them in pretty quick and start supplementing the staff," he said. "(The medical sites) are super pumped they’re able to give their own people breaks because people work 24/7 right now.” 

Moving forward, Caudle told WUSA9 that he expected many more volunteers to be needed due to an even greater possible surge in patients after the holiday season.

"The requests are definitely coming in and there is anticipating for spikes to occur around this time because of all the gatherings," he said. "We think that we’re going to be needed a lot and we’re trying to gear up and get more people trained so we can send them out into the field as fast as we can.” 

Anyone interested in volunteering for the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corps can apply here.

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