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ANNAPOLIS, MD — Maryland’s nursing homes may resume indoor visits, Gov. Larry Hogan announced at a Thursday press conference. State Superintendent Karen Salmon joined the governor, adding that Maryland’s day cares may expand to full capacity.

The reopening updates come as Maryland’s coronavirus metrics continue to fall. So long as counties and assisted-living facilities continue this trend, they may resume limited in-person visitation immediately.

The centers will close for visitation and remain closed for 14 days if they register a new coronavirus infection. The facilities will also close if their county’s positivity rate exceeds 10 percent. All of Maryland’s jurisdictions currently have positive rates under 5 percent.

“This spring, for states across the nation, nursing homes became ground zero for the fight against COVID-19,” Hogan said.

Maryland has already dedicated $102 million to slowing the spread of coronavirus in assisted-living centers. That spending helped the homes gather personal protective equipment and implement universal testing.

Now, the state is spending an additional $6 million on nursing homes. Hogan is also deploying a batch of rapid-results coronavirus tests to Maryland’s assisted-living facilities.

These tests deliver preliminary readings within 20 minutes. While speedy, these kits sometimes give false positives. Anybody who tests positive on the rapid-results exam must follow up with a traditional coronavirus assessment to confirm their diagnosis.

Maryland secured 250,000 of these swift tests on Sept. 10. That acquisition was part of a 10-state, $8 million deal sponsored by grants and donors. Hogan said Maryland will eventually add another quarter of a million rapid-results tests.

The state also expanded its testing capabilities to ramp up for flu season. Maryland’s lab can now test for coronavirus and influenza types A and B with the same sample.

Still, Hogan and health officials concerned about a potential spike in coronavirus cases in the fall. They also worry about a swell in test demands, as people could confuse their flu symptoms with coronavirus indicators.

The Maryland Department of Health is encouraging all residents to get the flu shot this year. Health leaders hope this will minimize confusion between the two sicknesses. They also want to keep hospitals clear in case coronavirus hospitalizations spike again this autumn.

“We are [trying to prevent] a potential surge in the fall,” Hogan said. “It’s why we pushed so hard to get the rapid testing. It’s why we transitioned our lab. It’s why we’re doing surge planning.”

Day Cares Reopen In Full

All child-care providers may reopen at their licensed capacity, Salmon told Marylanders. Day cares were previously capped in capacity to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

“With most school systems remaining in a period of virtual learning or a hybrid model, we understand the demand for available child care remains very high,” State Superintendent Karen Salmon said.

Every child-care center has a unique capacity. The number of rooms and teachers a day care has determines how many students it can host. These regulations also depend on the age of the kids it caters to.

The restrictions are tightest on 3- and 4-year-olds. No more than 20 of these toddlers are allowed in a room. Day cares must have at least one teacher for every 10 students.

The limits are looser on older kids, however. Child-care providers can have up to 30 school-age children in one space. One teacher is required for every 15 students.

“Hopefully this action will assist in limiting the many unregulated and illegal child-care providers that have sprung up in recent months as pandemic pods, where there are no criminal background checks, no oversight and parents cannot be sure that their children are in a safe environment,” Salmon said.

Maryland will support the movement to reopen legitimate centers by offering them one-time grants as they return to full service. At-home providers are eligible for up to $800. Day-care facilities can apply for $1,600. These grants will be available until Oct. 31.

The state will further encourage a return to business by awarding $1,000 to any new day care that opens. Salmon hopes this will encourage startups and grow Maryland’s small business community.

Any child-care providers who are interested in reopening should contact the Maryland State Department of Education’s licensing specialist, Salmon said.

Back to School Push

The announcement comes after Hogan and Salmon urged schools to get back to the classroom for some classes. The duo was frustrated that eight of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions did not initially allow any students to return to in-person instruction this fall. The remaining 16 allowed some form of in-person schooling in their initial plans.

A Sept. 1 State Board of Education vote required the eight lagging districts to rework their teaching models to require some form in-person learning. Hogan said Thursday that the jurisdictions in question have since updated their plans. All public school systems now allow at least some in-person learning, he said.

Salmon most recently pushed the effort by dangling $10 million in grants as an incentive to return students to school buildings. Districts are are eligible for a $200,000 base grant if they bring some students back to school by the start of the second quarter of the 2020-2021 school year. School boards will also collect additional money for each student that they send back to the classroom.

Coronavirus Statistics Update

Maryland reported zero coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday. That was since March 28 that the state’s death toll didn’t rise.

Patch explains Maryland’s coronavirus trends at this link.

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