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The Dripby Fern Shen6:17 pmJul 24, 20200

UPDATE: MDH confirms coronavirus outbreak, says procedures were followed

Only employees exposed “longer than 15 minutes” were told to self-isolate or get tested – and a source says that only happened after The Brew made inquiries

Above: The state office complex in Baltimore where part of one building, housing Maryland Department of Health employees, has experienced a coronavirus outbreak. (msa.maryland.gov)

Amid questions about the Maryland Department of Health’s handling of an outbreak of Covid-19 at its Baltimore headquarters, officials  confirmed that an infected employee came into contact with co-workers Monday, but said they responded to the incident properly.

In answer to questions posed yesterday by The Brew, a spokesman today said the employee received news of positive test results after arriving at the office at 201 West Preston Street.

“MDH supervisors followed established protocols and instructed the employee to immediately leave the premises and return home to self-isolate,” Charles Gischlar, deputy director of communications, said in an emailed statement.

A source had told The Brew that dozens of people who work in two office areas, processing health insurance claims, were also sent home Monday, but with no advice to self-isolate or be tested for the coronavirus.

•  EXCLUSIVE: Employees sent home after Covid-19 outbreak at Maryland Department of Health (7/24/20)

MDH’s statement today said “all staff in the areas where the employee worked were informed that an employee had tested positive” and were sent home.

But only a small subset of employees was given guidance about their risks of contracting the virus.

“Staff identified as having worked in close proximity for longer than 15 minutes with the positive employee were instructed to self-quarantine and recommended to get a COVID test,” the statement said.

This appears to be a reference to a meeting Monday involving eight people, among them the infected employee.

The rest of those working in the same area appear to have been given no guidance.

“Cutting it too close”

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Brew this afternoon that those eight people were not advised to self-isolate or get tested when they were sent home Monday.

That advice came only in an email four days later – last night at 8:30 p.m. after The Brew‘s inquiries. “I believe that email was prompted by your article,” the source said.

Employees were reportedly told the office had been cleaned and that they were to report to work today.

The MDH statement said that “the two office areas where the positive employee had worked were properly cleaned and sanitized” and that staff who work in these areas “were informed that they were open for employees to return today.”

But few people showed up, according to the source, who said MDH was not adequately protecting employees.

“The problem is that all of the employees were in the same large area with the infected person from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.,” the source said. “That’s cutting it too close to just assume all those folks are okay.”

“The infected person wasn’t at [the person’s] desk the entire time, but walked around.”

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