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by Fern Shen10:51 amJul 24, 20200

EXCLUSIVE: Employees sent home after Covid-19 outbreak at Maryland Department of Health

There was no contact tracing done. Employees were not told to self-isolate or get tested. Now they have been told to return to work, a source says

Above: Questions are raised about the Maryland Health Department’s handling of a coronavirus outbreak at its Baltimore headquarters. (msa.maryland.gov)

Dozens of state employees were sent home Monday after an outbreak of Covid-19 at the Baltimore office of the Maryland Department of Health (MDH), the agency overseeing the state’s response to the pandemic.

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Brew that a supervisor tested positive for the novel coronavirus, but came into their 201 West Preston Street workplace anyway on Monday.

The supervisor had contact with other employees who share space in what’s referred to as the building’s “surface level” and participated in a meeting of eight people who were wearing masks but not observing social distancing, the source said.

All the employees from the SS-12 and SS-18 claims and adjustments areas, who process claims from health care providers, were reportedly told in the afternoon to go home and not come back until further notice.

The workers were given no guidance on how to protect themselves or persons they live with.

“No one was told they need to self-isolate. No one was told they need to get tested, no contact tracing was done. People were just sent home to their households,” the source said.

“It’s just amazing the state health department is mismanaging an outbreak in its own building,” the source said.

A department spokesman, asked to provide a response yesterday, has not yet done so.

UPDATE: MDH responds

Employees Told to Return

Since The Brew’s inquiry, the source said, MDH officials have taken some action: They instructed the eight people who were in the meeting with the infected employee to telework.

But the others were told to report to work in the building today. According to the source, very few have.

“It’s as if [MDH officials] are making a distinction – saying, of the ones who were not in that meeting, ‘we’re not concerned about your health,’” the source said.

“It’s just amazing the state health department is mismanaging an outbreak in its own building”  – MDH source.

“Any action they take now comes after letting three days go by,” the source added, noting that since The Brew’s inquiry at least one person, a contract employee, was  told to self-isolate.

Employees who work in claims and adjustments are considered “critical,” the source said, explaining that they process Medicare and Medicaid claims using files that cannot be accessed online.

“If the providers don’t get paid, that’s millions of dollars – they’re [MDH] walking a tightrope, I get that,” the source said.

“Still, it would be nice if the state’s own health department had standards and protocols in place to keep people safe.”

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