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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

TRANSCRIPT: Press Conference March 30, 2020

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Good morning. We have reached a critical turning point in the fight to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic here in Maryland and in the national capital region, which includes Washington, D.C. and Virginia.

We now have 1413 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in our state, including our youngest case to date, a 1-month old infant.

Just in the past week, the number of positive cases has increased by 397% in the state of Maryland.  And, sadly, the number of deaths here in Maryland has tripled from 5 to 15 over the weekend.

We also experienced a tragic coronavirus outbreak at the Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy, which is in Carroll County, where 67 residents have now tested positive and 27 members of the staff are also experiencing symptoms.

It took nearly 3 weeks for the national capital region to go from 0 to 1,000 cases of COVID-19.  It took just 3 days for the region to more than double from 1,000 to more than 2500 cases.

The number of cases across Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia have more than quadrupled over the past week, and also 51 people have died.

As of this morning, there are 2,709 confirmed cases in the DMV area, which surrounds the nation’s capital.  There are currently 142,793 cases across America, and more than 738,000 cases around the globe.

The worldwide death toll has doubled in the past week to over 35,000.  The number of U.S. deaths has doubled to nearly 2500 in just 2 days.

For those who still refuse to take this pandemic seriously, and those who are still downplaying the severity of this crisis, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said yesterday that we could expect millions of cases in the United States and 100,000 deaths.

To put that in perspective, that would mean more American deaths than the Vietnam War and the Korean War added together.  This virus is spreading rapidly and exponentially. The researchers and medical experts are saying that in two weeks’ time, the D.C., Maryland, and Virginia areas could look like New York and the tristate area.

At my direction, Maryland has already taken some of the earliest and most aggressive social distancing actions in America in an effort to slow the spread of this aggressive virus.  Despite all of those actions and our warnings for more than 3 weeks, and in spite of the rapid escalation of this crisis across the world, the nation, and our state, some people are still choosing to ignore those executive orders and directives.  They are endangering themself he’s and their fellow citizens. Anyone engaged in this type of reckless behavior is in violation of state law and is putting the lives of their family, their friends, and their fellow Marylanders at risk.

This morning I have signed an executive order which implements a stay at home directive.  No Maryland resident should be leaving their home unless it is for an essential job or for an essential reason such as obtaining food or medicine, seeking urgent medical attention, or for other necessary purposes.

In addition, only essential businesses are allowed to remain open in Maryland, and those businesses must also make every effort to scale down their operations in order to reduce the number of required staff, to limit in-person interaction with customers as much as they are able to, and to institute telework for as much of the workforce as is practical.

As we have previously stated, no Marylander should be traveling outside the state unless such travel is absolutely necessary.  If you have traveled outside of the region in recent weeks, you should self-quarantine for 14 days.

We encourage not just businesses but families and friends to make every effort to use remote forms of communication, to limit person to person contact.  Marylanders should reschedule all nonessential appointments of any kind. As we directed 11 days ago, no one should be using any mode of public transportation unless they are essential personnel or unless that travel is absolutely necessary.

This is a deadly public health crisis.  We are no longer asking or suggesting that Marylanders stay home.  We are directing them to do so.

This executive order will become effective at 8:00 p.m. today.  All 26 executive orders we have enacted in the past few weeks will remain in full force and effect, and we will be enforcing these orders to ensure compliance.

At my direction, state and local law enforcement officials have already stepped up their enforcement efforts.  Today’s order states that any person who knowingly and willfully violates the order is guilty of a misdemeanor and is subject to imprisonment not to exceed one year and a fine.

In an effort to ensure this message reaches every single Marylander, and in order to reinforce the critical nature of this order, we will be sending out a wireless emergency alert on all cell phones and mobile devices in Maryland, with a public safety advisory to follow the stay-at-home directive.

This is a rapidly escalating emergency situation, which will soon hit all of Maryland and our nation’s capital.

In just a few minutes, I will once again be leading America’s governors on a teleconference with the President, vice president, and some of our top federal leaders.  Later today we will also convene another call with our partners in the region, Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser.

Two weeks ago, the three of us sent a joint letter to the President requesting that the national capital region be designated as a priority location for a federally supported COVID-19 testing site.  The Washington region is where national leaders are actually fighting this battle for the nation, and this region is about to be hit with the virus in the same way that some other major metropolitan areas have been.

We are home to more than 404,000 federal workers in Maryland, D.C., and Virginia.  The NIH and FDA are headquartered in Maryland, and these agencies are on the front lines of the battle against the coronavirus.

Maryland is also home to institutions that are critical to the security of our nation, including the NSA and the U.S. Cyber Command.

Last week four employees at Fort Meade tested positive for COVID-19.

Federal workers at these institutions and all agencies of the federal government are and will continue to be getting sick.  And a major outbreak among our critical federal workforce could be catastrophic, crippling the national response.

This region also represents the third largest economy in the nation.  The health of the national capital region, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia, needs to be an urgent priority focus for our national leaders.  It is critical for the nation’s health response, for our national security, for our economy, and for the continuity of our government.

On behalf of the nation’s governors, we will continue to push for more progress on ramping up production and delivery of PPE, test kits, masks, ventilators, and other necessary equipment, and for more federal resources directly to the states that are on the front lines of this crisis.

I want to thank our federal partners for answering our calls to action by dedicating some stimulus resources to the states and for committing to more state funding in the next round of stimulus.

Also, for agreeing to our request to extend the deadlines for the census and the implementation of the real I.D., for implementing the Defense Production Act, for granting our request for major disaster declarations, including for us here in Maryland, and for agreeing to invoke Title 32 for National Guard relief missions.

We’re also grateful to the President and the Congress for coming together in a bipartisan way to deliver the coronavirus aid, relief, and economic security which includes roughly $2.3 billion in federal assistance directly for the state of Maryland, including $810 million from the FEMA disaster relief fund, $284 million for SNAP benefits, $220 million for Maryland local school districts, $158 million for local nutrition programs, $63 million for childcare in Maryland, and $54 million for the community development block grant program.

The CARES act also includes much needed support for small businesses and extended benefits for the unemployed.  All of the federal assistance is critically needed, and these efforts are appreciated.

However, our state is not simply relying on or waiting for action from the federal government.  We’re very fortunate that Maryland has some of the top health research facilities in the world. I remain confident in our ability to be a leader in developing treatments and perhaps even a vaccine for COVID-19.  Last week the state committed funding to a joint partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins for groundbreaking research into the potential therapeutic uses of COVID-19 convalescent plasma, which has the potential to save thousands of lives.

Today, in coordination with the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland Department of Transportation, State Highway Administration, the Maryland State Police, Maryland National Guard, and local partners have begun drive-through testing for COVID-19 at three motor vehicle emissions inspections stations in Glen Burnie, Waldorf, and Bel Air.

In addition, today a Prince George’s County COVID-19 screening and testing site has opened at FedEx Field in partnership with the University of Maryland medical system, the Maryland National Guard, Maryland State Police, and Prince George’s County police.  Residents can call Prince George’s County Health Department at (301)883-6627 for more information.  

There is no charge at any of these COVID-19 assessment, screening, and testing sites.  However, I want to stress that the testing allotment in Maryland and across America is still limited, and testing at these sites is strictly limited to those with a referral from their healthcare provider or doctor and who have an appointment to be tested.

I also want to provide an update on our hospital surge efforts.  On Saturday, FEMA delivered 250 bed packages to the Baltimore Convention Center field hospital, and the Maryland National Guard immediately began setting up the site.  The state has assisted the University of Maryland medical system in starting construction for the reopening of the 130-bed Laurel Hospital and is currently contracting for staff and equipment for that hospital site.

We have ordered 500 additional new bed packages for on-site surge expansion at our hospitals, with an option for another 500 beds, which will be deployed to sites based on need at any coronavirus hotspots.

We have also ordered 100 advanced medical tents to provide an additional 1,000 bed field hospital capacity for on-site surge expansion at the hospitals and convention centers.  They will be deployed to hospital sites at coronavirus hotspots based on needs.

We are also coordinating with the D.C. government to ensure that regional surge capacity is addressed, and engaging MedStar, which operates facilities in both D.C. and Maryland, and Kaiser Permanente, which operates in the capital region.  Kaiser is planning to surge another 500 beds throughout the region, including an increase of 218 beds at their Maryland facilities.

A week ago we launched a $175 million comprehensive business relief program here in Maryland that brought together resources from two key state agencies, the Maryland Department of Commerce and the Maryland Department of Labor, to help hard-pressed Marylanders and small businesses get through this difficult period.

We introduced the COVID-19 layoff aversion fund to provide an additional $7 million to assist small businesses in the retainment of their employees.  The Maryland Department of Labor has already received more than 1500 applications, and today I have authorized an additional $2 million to bring this fund immediately up to $9 million.

$8.8 million has already been provided to over 400 small businesses across the state, which has helped more than 8,000 Marylanders who work for small businesses keep their jobs in 20 out of 24 jurisdictions across Maryland.

A week ago we also established a $50 million Maryland small business COVID-19 relief grant fund to provide direct immediate grants to businesses that have lost revenue because of the coronavirus, along with a $75 million Maryland small business COVID-19 fund to provide working capital to businesses and nonprofits with fewer than 50 employees and have lost revenue due to the pandemic.

The Commerce Department has already received more than 5,300 applications for this new relief fund and more than 11,000 applications for the new grant fund.

Information on all of these Maryland assistance programs is available at businessexpress.maryland.gov.

Over the past few weeks, we took steps to direct insurers to waive all cost sharing for COVID-19 testing and to open up a special enrollment period of the Maryland Health Exchange and expanding the use of telehealth.  

Today I am also enacting another executive order which temporarily suspends any requirements that families would have to pay premiums into the Maryland Children’s Health Program so that families will not lose any coverage during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Marylanders need to know that unfortunately we are only at the beginning of this crisis, and it is going to get considerably worse before it gets better.  I realize that this is incredibly difficult on everyone in our state, but I want people to know that we have been through difficult challenges before and that we are going to get through this together.

I also want to take just a moment to thank our doctors, nurses, all of our healthcare providers and first responders along with our citizen soldiers of the National Guard.  They are on the front lines every single day putting their own health at risk in order to keep others safe, and they are true heroes.

There are also other heroes that you don’t always hear about, like for example the 12 school systems across Maryland that have donated all of their medical supplies to their local Emergency Operations Centers and Health Departments.  Allegany schools offered 8,000 surgical masks. Cecil County Public Schools donated 265 medical gowns, 1200 surgical masks, 8,000 pairs of gloves, 150 oxygen tube packs, and 6,000 alcohol prep packs. Howard County Public Schools donated 5,800 surgical masks and 6,000 pairs of surgical gloves.  And Wicomico County Public Schools donated 100 N95 masks and 120 Tyvek suits.

There are just literally hundreds of wonderful stories of small businesses, nonprofits, churches, volunteer groups, and individuals that are doing truly incredible things.  And the fact is that each and every one of us has a chance right now to do something to help our neighbors. Every single Marylander can be a hero just by staying home and by practicing social distancing.  This will not only keep you and your family safe, but it could also save the lives of thousands of others.

In the days to come, we are all going to need to depend on each other, to look out for each other, and to take care of each other, because we are all in this together.

With that, I’m going to turn it over to our deputy Secretary of Health, Fran Phillips.

FRAN PHILLIPS:  Thank you, Governor.  Thank you, Governor for your leadership and for the decisive steps that you have taken to protect public health in Maryland to slow the spread and to save lives.  

26 days ago, Governor Hogan stepped forward to declare a catastrophic health emergency in the face of this virus.  Since then, our lives have changed in ways we could not have imagined. We are in this for weeks, if not months. This will be a sustained effort by every one of us to battle this virus.

This is, indeed, the greatest public health challenge of our lifetime, and we all need to face this together.  We have no vaccine to protect us against this virus. We have no treatments to cure this disease. As the number of people hospitalized across the country and here in Maryland grow, we see that even the basic gear to protect healthcare workers, first responders, is in short supply.

One development that the Governor announced is the opening of very limited coronavirus testing sites across the state this week.  I want to talk specifically about the points of these test sites for a moment. This is for at risk people with symptoms of the disease who will not be tested in emergency rooms or in crowded physicians’ offices.  The point of these test sites is to pull people away from those healthcare facilities, to spare the emergency rooms, and to allow for testing in an alternative site.

This is not for everyone.  These are only for people either with a provider order for a test or an appointment.  These are for people with symptoms as well as being in certain age or other priority groups.  This testing is for people with symptoms and people who are over 65, healthcare workers or first responders, people who live in group homes, or people who are determined by their healthcare providers to be medically unstable.

For the rest of us, the only strategy that we have is to take huge steps, as Governor Hogan as outlined, in our daily lives across society as well as at home.  And the key to what we can do together is social distancing. That is keeping space between us. So important for all of us, and particularly for people who have underlying medical conditions, people who are 65 and older, but don’t for a minute think that this virus, that you are immune from this virus if you are younger.  As the Governor reported, we have some very, very young infants who are now infected with this virus.

So I want to say specifically to the people in Maryland, we are in this together.  When this crisis is over, and one day, it will be over, we will look back at this time in our lives and this particular extraordinary moment.  When we look back, we have to be able to say that we did everything we could to save lives. We stayed home, we missed school, we missed our friends, all of our normal routines, so we could fight this virus and save lives.

We will say we gave up so much for a while in order to save our loved ones, our friends, neighbors, and countless others that we will never know.  This virus and this disease is sneaky. It spreads very easily. It takes days before we know we have become infected before symptoms appear. The symptoms can seem minor or they could come on very suddenly and feel overwhelming.  Some people, most people, can handle this illness on their own, at home, with rest, with fluids, and with over the counter fever reducers. But there are some people who will get into real trouble with this disease. They will lose their ability to breathe properly.  They will feel weak. These are people who may have underlying conditions, or as I said earlier, maybe not. If you are in that situation, if you have symptoms, call your healthcare provider. If you continue to have difficulty breathing, if you feel faint, you need to call 911.

Some people will deteriorate and need to be hospitalized.  And there again, that’s a reason for us all to step forward and to do what we can to flatten that curve, so that people when they do go to the hospital, our healthcare workers can take care of them.  Our numbers, as we know today, we had 67 new hospitalizations in the last 24 hours. We have a deadly outbreak in Carroll County. And we know that there are clusters of concern under investigation around the state.  So we have to stop the spread. We have to do everything we can to stop this infection today so that next week and in the weeks to come there will be enough care available for those who do get sick.

What you do today, what you do tomorrow, it matters.  It really matters. It matters for the future of us all.  And I want to tell you right now that there are some very sick people here in Maryland.  I want to recognize and thank the dedicated and courageous healthcare workers and first responders and all of the people in our community who have stepped forward to take care not only of COVID patients but also of our community itself.  I want to thank the thousands of people working in nursing homes, in public health, in primary care, people doing everything they can to keep people from getting sick.

If you have healthcare skills or other skills that you would like to volunteer, I urge you to consider volunteering with Maryland Responds, the Medical Reserve Corps.  If you go to MDresponds.health.maryland.gov, you can sign up and be registered to be a volunteer and part of this corps.

Every single person in Maryland has to help these dedicated people right now.  We need to protect ourselves and to save lives. So don’t go out. Only take a walk by yourself or with the people that you live with, and for a very short period of time.  Don’t do unnecessary things. You need to stay home. Do everything that you can online or by phone. If you must get out, particularly if you are vulnerable, you must stay six feet away from other people.  Wash your hands frequently. And don’t touch your face.

If you need help, if you need more information, please call 211.  If you’re feeling that you need some extra help, please call 211. These are extraordinary times.  By acting right now, by pulling together, we can slow the spread, save lives, and take charge of our future.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Thank you.  

With that, we’ll be happy to take a couple of questions.

>> (Question off mic.)

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I think we’ve already got a lot of businesses shut down in the state, and I think further ones will shut down as a result of the act today.

>> (Question off mic.)

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  A lot of it is common sense.  Fran Phillips talked about some of that.  People are not locked in their homes. We’re just telling people that they need to stay in their homes except for essential and necessary things.  We want people to go out and get food, prescriptions. You should be able to get outside for your own mental well-being, go for a walk, walk your dog.  You should not be going out with a crowd of 100 people, congregating in a park somewhere.

If your plumbing is leaking all over your house, if you have to go out and do something about fixing that, that’s probably a necessary function.  But you shouldn’t be out shopping for new cabinets or buying furniture or clothing. Just buy the necessary things you need to survive.

>> (Question off mic.)

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  We told people, anyone traveling from anywhere, not just from New York, but from any other state outside our region, to self-quarantine for 14 days.  We told people in Maryland they should not travel outside of the region for any reason whatsoever unless absolutely essential. We’re messaging that at all of our airports, entrances to the state, Amtrak, on our state highways, and we’re cracking down on enforcement.  We’re down to about 50% on our transit systems, only for essential riders. And we’ll take whatever further actions are necessary. The.

>> Can you elaborate on what Ms. Phillips said about other clusters in Maryland?  I assume those clusters know they’re of concern, but can you give us a description of what entities those might be?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Maybe Ms. Phillips would like to touch on a few of them, but we talked about kind of the worst-case scenario, the most frightening one today is this nursing home situation in Carroll County because we have 67 positive.  But there are smaller outbreaks in a number of places around the state that are of concern, that are in senior centers or nursing homes or with staff at hospitals or people in sensitive locations. There’s a whole long list.  We have things happening in 22 out of 24 of our jurisdictions. But the list would be too long to go into all of them. I think those are the highlighted ones. But we can address that at a later time. There are things that concern us that we could probably talk about all day long.

>> Speaking of institutional cases, staff are concerned about going to work at medical centers.  What can do you to make sure employees are safe?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  That’s one of the things.  So it’s every — it’s at Perkins, at our psychiatric hospitals, at all of our normal medical hospitals, it’s at our detention facilities, all of our assisted living facilities, nursing home facilities.  There are literally thousands of facilities that we’re concerned about in the state of Maryland.

>> Do you have enough gear for —

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  No. We do not have enough gear.  No one in the country has enough gear.  That’s the number one problem America right now.

>> How is that search going, Governor?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  We’re going to continue to press that with the federal partners.  Every Governor in America is concerned about that. We’re also pressing, I spent the weekend talking to people at the federal level.  Also pushing to get some of these supplies everywhere we can find them on the open market and around the world, not just here domestically.

But there simply are not enough of all of these things, which is the greatest tragedy of this crisis.  It’s not a situation for one mental health facility or this one state; there are not enough PPE, masks, ventilators, swabs, anywhere in America.  That’s the number one problem we have.

>> What do you tell the people who work at those facilities who don’t have the proper equipment that they need to go do their job?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  They are in danger.  That’s the thing that everyone at the federal, state, and local level, and I know the hospital systems are focusing on like a laser beam.

>> What effect is this likely to have on the state budget both in the current year that we’re winding up and in the year about to start?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  It’s going to be devastating for the state budget.  We’ll tap into and perhaps drain the entire rainy-day fund.  We’ve already asked for half of the next stimulus package from the federal government for the states.  I was happy to see that the President the other day recognized that fact. There was a question about a fourth stimulus package, he said, the states are going to need help.  Several governors talked about the fact that their states may be in great fiscal danger.

>> (Question off mic.)

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I don’t think that’s too unrealistic.  We’re talking about nationally 25% unemployment.  Revenues should be down dramatically.

>> You mentioned that the expert predicting the tristate area.  Sources in the tristate area specifically say that autopsies are coming back confirming what they see, that Ibuprofen appears to be attracted to this molecule.  Is it too early to say that there’s a correlation? It’s a warning that I’ve been getting over and over.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  So Fran Phillips says it’s too early to say anything about Ibuprofen.  I don’t think we’ve heard anything about that rumor from Connecticut.

>> Will health officials be going back and look at cases that predate the state of emergency to determine whether or not any earlier deaths in Maryland might have been related to COVID-19?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  That’s a good question.

FRAN PHILLIPS:  The state medical examiner’s office is completely wired in and working with us every step of the way.  Whenever there is any kind of suspicion as far as any kind of unexplained death, they go ahead and do testing.  So they’ve very much heightened surveillance.

>> Will they be going back and looking at cases that predate —

FRAN PHILLIPS:  They may do that in an aggregate way.  Of course there’s no way to do testing.  To look at what the trend line is for past unexplained respiratory illnesses might be something to look at.  But right now they’re focused on the cases immediately at hand.

>> (Question off mic.)

>> And can you clarify the test results?  They give a comfort that doesn’t exist.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  As of today, 51% of all the positive cases are age 50 and younger, which is quite a difference from what we’ve been talking about.  Fran can address the hospitalizations as of yesterday. 56% of all the hospitalizations were under 60.

On the testing, so we now have all the lab reporting.  We have negatives and positives. A percentage of positives is going up, but that’s because we’re doing a better job of testing the people that are sick.  So I think we’ve gone up from 3% to 10 or 11%. Fran can explain why that’s a good thing, not a bad thing, because we’re testing the right people rather than wasting tests on people who did not have the disease.

Did you want to address that further?

FRAN PHILLIPS:  Our positivity right now is over 11%.  It started down at 3%. That was when we had tests available not only at the state as well as in commercial labs, we didn’t require certain people to be tested.  So we are doing contract tracing in order to stop the spread.

>> The negative test results posted on your website —

FRAN PHILLIPS:  Those are tests.  The so there are some instances where a person would have more than one test, but that’s really insignificant.

>> (Question off mic.)

FRAN PHILLIPS:  As the Governor said, one of the key shortages that we have is not only personal protective equipment, but it’s the lab supplies to do these tests.  So it’s the raw ingredients going into turning these tests out, in the state labs, hospital labs, and commercial labs. As a result, there is a backlog in the commercial labs so that some of the results we report today are people who had their tested submitted days and days ago and who could have been infected a week and a half ago.  So you have to look at this in terms of the process. It’s a very good question, because we still have backlog.

Now, the state lab has prioritized for urgently needed testing, and that’s for hospitalized patients primarily or in these cluster investigations.  Those we’ve prioritized our state lab to do that we can turn around in less than 24 hours.

>> (Question off mic.)

FRAN PHILLIPS:  I’m not aware that we have looked into that.  

Thank you.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Thank you.

>> Thank you all.