By Mike Hellgren

HANOVER, Md. (WJZ) — With COVID-19 hospitalizations topping 3,000 in Maryland and predicted to continue climbing, Gov. Larry Hogan on Tuesday declared a state of emergency to combat the public health crisis.

Hogan also signed a pair of executive orders—the first empowering the Maryland Department of Health to regulate hospital staffing and resources, and the second activating 1,000 Maryland National Guard members to shore up the state’s EMS ranks.

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“While we can’t manufacture doctors and nurses who don’t exist, we have continued to do everything we possibly can do at the state level in order to help our hospitals withstand this surge and to save lives,” Hogan said.

DOCUMENT: Read a copy of the governor’s proclamation

The governor said Maryland reached a new peak of 3,057 hospitalizations on Tuesday, which represents an increase of more than 500% over the past seven weeks, and they could surpass 5,000 patients in the coming weeks.

“From Day 1 of the crisis, I have told it to you straight, and so the truth is, the next four to six weeks will be the most challenging time of the entire pandemic,” the governor said during a news conference.

The emergency declaration comes one week after the Maryland Hospital Association called for the state to issue a limited public health emergency, saying hospitals’ workforces were stretched “incredibly thin.”

Over the past few weeks, several hospitals across the state have declared disasters and shifted to crisis protocols to deal with the flow of COVID-19 admissions.

The first of two executive orders Hogan signed Tuesday gives the health department authority over hospitals’ staffing, capacity and supplies. It also clears the way for out-of-state, retired and graduate nurses to practice.

The second mobilizes 1,000 members of the Maryland National Guard to beef up emergency medical services. Roughly 250 of those National Guard members will support COVID-19 testing sites statewide.

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“In addition, they will be assisting us in the opening of another 20 testing sites outside hospitals all across the state in order to meet the rapidly rising demand for testing,” the governor said.

Hogan also called on the Biden administration to provide more shipments of monoclonal antibody treatments, and to ramp up production and distribution of both COVID-19 tests and newly authorized antiviral medicines.

Last month, the state launched a surge operations center to help Maryland’s hospitals manage capacity, and hospitals were directed to scale back non-emergency procedures to free up beds.

The governor also pledged $100 million to nursing homes and hospitals, including $50 million to help address staffing shortages at those facilities.

Among other things, the state has also ramped up its testing operation. That includes launching two new state-run testing clinics in Anne Arundel and Harford counties, which are open seven days a week.

Maryland National Guard soldiers will help set up 20 new testing sites at hospitals across the state, the governor’s office said.

Following FDA approval, Maryland will supply booster shots to children ages 12 to 15, Hogan said. Additionally, adults who have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine only have to wait five months to get boosted instead of six, he said.

“All of the emergency actions that we’re taking today are to keep our hospitals from overflowing, to keep our kids in school and to keep Maryland open for business,” the governor said. “And we will continue to take whatever actions are necessary in the very difficult days and weeks ahead.”

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