BALTIMORE (WJZ) — Gov. Larry Hogan on Monday signed an executive order allowing select nursing students to serve as licensed practitioners, among other measures, as part of an effort to shore up nursing home and hospital staffing.

The governor’s executive order allows graduate nursing students who are licensed practical nurses, certified nursing assistants and/or certified medical technicians to practice at health care facilities, including hospitals and nursing homes.

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Additionally, the executive order allows respiratory therapy students to assistant with emergency medical services and gives pharmacists and pharmacy technicians more flexibility when it comes to licensing, the governor’s office said Monday.

“We continue to take short-term actions to support our health care workforce as it deals with the Omicron wave and the influx of unvaccinated patients,” Gov. Hogan said. “All the data continues to show very encouraging trends, with many of our key health metrics consistently and substantially declining.”

The order comes as Maryland has seen its COVID-19 hospitalizations fall to 2,330 and as its positivity rate has dipped below 15%, well below their peaks documented by the Maryland Department of Health earlier this month.

According to the governor’s office, hospitalizations in Maryland are dropping at the fastest rate nationwide. Their current mark of 2,330 represents a nearly 33% drop from their high of 3,462 on Jan. 11.

Maryland is in the midst of a 30-day state of emergency Hogan issued this month in response to surging infections and hospitalizations, which pushed several hospitals to near- or at-capacity levels.

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Last week, Hogan said the next 10 to 14 days will be key to the state’s response to surging infections, and he encouraged Marylanders to continue wearing masks and avoiding crowds, and to get tested and vaccinated.

The governor and health care leaders have noted that most of Maryland’s COVID-19 patients are unvaccinated, and they continue to urge those who have not yet gotten the vaccine or booster shot to do so.

“We ask Marylanders to remain vigilant, to keep doing the things that keep us safe, and to get boosted for maximum protection against these variants,” Hogan said.

In recent weeks, the state has ramped up its testing operations in an effort to keep up with public demand. That includes opening 20 new testing sites statewide with support from the Maryland National Guard.

Hospitals statewide have freed up beds and scaled back non-emergency procedures, with 14 shifting to crisis standards of care, in response to the COVID-19 surge.

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Hogan issued an executive order on Jan. 4 empowering the Maryland Department of Health to regulate hospital capacity and resources, and authorizing retired, out-of-state and graduate nurses to practice. Another order shored up EMS response.

CBS Baltimore Staff