BALTIMORE (WJZ) – Gov. Larry Hogan plans to protect Maryland’s seniors by requiring staff, volunteers and vendors who work at nursing homes across the state to take a COVID-19 test twice a week.

Hogan shared the details of that plan during a press conference Thursday at the University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Easton. He said the Maryland Department of Health would issue an order that makes testing mandatory.

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The health department’s order is set to go into effect on Jan. 21.

“Nearly 70% of Maryland nursing homes are now currently reporting positive COVID-19 cases among residents and staff,” Hogan said. “While we want people to continue to be able to visit their loved ones, we will do everything in our power to ensure that they can do so safely.”

Nursing home visitors will need to provide proof of a negative test or take a rapid test at the facility before seeing their loved ones, Hogan said. Those testing resources will be made available to them free of charge.

To further combat COVID-19, the Maryland National Guard will begin distributing Remdesivir to pharmacies that directly serve nursing homes, Hogan said. Remdesivir is a therapeutic treatment that has proven to be effective against the Omicron variant, which has proven to be four to five times more transmissible than other COVID-19 variants.

“From day one of this crisis, we have taken unprecedented actions to bring our entire public health arsenal to bear against this virus,” the governor said. “This includes procuring and distributing hundreds of millions of gowns, masks and other [personal protective equipment].”

Maryland is under a 30-day state of emergency issued by Hogan in response to surging cases and hospitalizations, some of which have declared disasters and shifted to crisis protocols to keep up with demand for care.

Additionally, beginning next week, the Department of Health will begin distributing 20 million N95 and KN95 masks across the state, Hogan said. He said the masks will be made available free of charge to local health departments and at all state-run testing and vaccination sites.

The governor said the Maryland National Guard will also distribute the masks to nursing homes statewide and to state agencies.

The Maryland National Guard is part of the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force. It has been using its mobile clinic to take COVID-19 vaccines to communities that have experienced the highest levels of viral spread.

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Maryland Army National Guard Commander Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead said the task force has worked nonstop to bridge the health divide across the state.

“The equity task force will continue to do all we can do by adding testing to our toolbox and max distribution, but we will still adhere to our first charge and that is of equity and putting the vaccine into the arms of the community,” she said.

William Huffner, the chief medical officer and senior vice president of medical affairs at the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, said that the number of COVID-19 patients at the University of Maryland medical system had nearly doubled.

“At the University of Maryland medical system, we’re seeing over 800 patients now hospitalized with COVID-19,” he said. “At Shaw Regional Health, nearly 50 patients are in our hospitals at this time.”

Hogan commended people for donning masks during the time of a nationwide health crisis but noted that cloth masks do not provide adequate protection against the Omicron variant.

While Hogan said many people say they use cloth masks because they don’t have access to N95 masks or KN95 masks, he aims to fix that issue.

If there are “20 million of them out on the streets, it’s going to take away that argument,” Hogan said.

Saying Maryland is among the leading states when it comes to masking, the governor said he has no plans to issue a mask mandate.

Last week, Hogan announced that he would open 20 state-run COVID-19 testing sites across the state in the wake of increased COVID-19 hospitalizations and the rising demand for COVID-19 tests. He said eight of those locations are fully operational and two will be opened on Friday.

The new testing sites are being stood up to keep Maryland’s emergency rooms from being overrun by people who want COVID-19 tests, Hogan said. Hospital-based testing sites will be established at the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health, TidalHealth, Garrett Regional Medical Center, Holy Cross Germantown Hospital, Howard County General Hospital, and University of Maryland Baltimore Washington Medical Center, according to a list provided by Hogan’s office.

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“Our team is working around the clock to launch these sites,” he said.

CBS Baltimore Staff