ANNAPOLIS, Md. (WJZ) — With Maryland surpassing 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations for the first time since late April, Gov. Larry Hogan and state health officials on Friday directed hospitals to update their emergency plans to deal with increased patient capacity and expanded booster shots to 16- and 17-year-olds.

Additionally, the Maryland Department of Health sent a letter to the Maryland Board of Physicians and Maryland Board of Nursing urging regulators to issue temporary licenses to healthcare providers whose license recently expired and to simplify the process for out-of-state workers to practice in Maryland.

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Health officials also directed hospitals to establish programs for monoclonal antibody infusion, a treatment that can eliminate COVID-19 before symptoms get too severe.

Echoing statements made during a Thursday press conference, Hogan expressed concern about the “convergence” of the flu, and the Delta and Omicron variants of COVID-19 during the winter.

“Maryland has begun to see an uptick in our key health metrics, and we are increasingly concerned by the sharp rise in hospitalizations, which have doubled over the last three weeks,” said Hogan. “State health officials are taking these additional actions as we continue to use every tool at our disposal to help Maryland hospitals have the resources they need to respond to this and future hospital surges.”

Early indications show the Omicron variant is believed to be four times more transmissible than other strains, Hogan said Thursday.

“It does seem to be spreading faster,” Dr. Cameron Webb of the White House COVID-19 task force said. “There’s still some significant degree of (vaccine) antibody production against the Omicron variant.”

Dr. Webb serves as the senior advisor for equity on the COVID-19 response team. If more people would get vaccinated, he said, there would be fewer and less intense variants.

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“If the virus had less places to go, less people in whom to replicate, that’s less opportunities to create variants,” Webb said. “Getting vaccinated, getting protected, stopping the spread locally—if every community really rallies together to accomplish that, this virus is going to have nowhere to go.”

The state health department is directing hospitals to update their emergency plans by Dec. 15, asking institutions to maximize intensive care bed capacity and overall patient capacity by using regional hospitals and alternate care sites.

On Friday, COVID-19 hospitalizations increased by 43 to 1,027. It’s the first time since April that Maryland has surpassed 1,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations. Of those hospitalized, 781 adults are in acute care and 236 adults are in intensive care. There are eight children in acute care and two in intensive care.

Like many hospitals across the country, medical centers in Maryland are dealing with a “burnout crisis” among doctors and nurses.

The American Nurses Association predicts the U.S. will need an additional 1.2 million nurses in 2022 to keep up with the growing demand and attrition.

In Baltimore, the University of Maryland School of Nursing has allowed students to graduate early. Notre Dame of Maryland University is offering an accelerated program to help students earn their nursing degrees in just 15 months.

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On Thursday, the governor announced he would also be introducing emergency legislation to help with the staffing shortages.

Brandon Weigel