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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

TRANSCRIPT: COVID-19 Press Conference April 15, 2020

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Welcome. Maryland has now gone over 10,000 confirmed cases with 10,032 patients with COVID-19.  2,231 patients have been hospitalized in Maryland to date and sadly, 349 Marylanders have lost their lives to this deadly virus, including another 47 Maryland deaths yesterday and 40 deaths on Monday, making it our deadliest 48 hours to date for the coronavirus here in Maryland.  There are now over 18,700 cases in the Maryland, D.C. and Virginia area and more than 600 people have died in the national capital region. On a more positive note, 607 Marylanders have recovered and have now been released from isolation. Last month, after we discovered and reported on our first case of community transmission in Maryland, we immediately moved from the initial containment phase to the mitigation phase, ramping up our hospital and medical capabilities, and focusing on our resources, our hot spots and our most vulnerable populations.

Early projections from Johns Hopkins indicated that without us making drastic actions this pandemic would infect nearly 360,000 people in our state and potentially kill more than 12,000 Marylanders by June 1st.  We decided to take early and aggressive actions in order to combat what’s happening and to avoid becoming the next New York or Italy. Our early and aggressive mitigation actions were in an effort to flatten the curve to prevent the overwhelming of our hospital system and in order to save the lives of thousands of Marylanders.  

All of our Maryland citizens have been an important part of that effort to slow the spread of this deadly virus, and fortunately we are now beginning to see initial signs that these actions are making a real difference.  While our state’s numbers are still growing each day, and sadly the number of deaths is continuing to increase but are at a much lower rate than they would have been without those actions. And on a positive note, over the past few days, our hospitalization rates are starting to show possible signs of stabilizing.  In addition, we have dramatically ramped up our surge capacity, our testing capability and our supplies of PPE, and our contact tracing teams are also having greater success as people are staying home and limiting their contact with others. Fortunately because of the early and aggressive action and because of the extraordinary sacrifices of Marylanders, we are now in a position to move from containment and mitigation to plan the gradual rollout of our recovery phase.  Our numbers are still rising and we are still heading up that curve, so we are not quite there yet, but we are seeing positive signs of optimism.  

Over the last several weeks I’ve been consulting with experts and developing a road map for the reopening of our state and in consultation with our coronavirus response team of doctors and public health experts.  We will be discussing those recovery plans in much greater detail next week, but I can assure you that those plans will be well thought out, gradual and safe. Because if the recovery is not done in a responsible way it will not only cost lives, but it would deepen the economic crisis and actually prolong the problem and slow our recovery.  

There are some very real reasons for opening up to this right now, and there is clearly a light at the end of this tunnel, but exactly how and when we will get to that light is going to be up to each and every one of us.  Right now, while our numbers are still climbing while we are still getting up that curve to get it down it is absolutely critical for Marylanders to stay at home, to continue avoiding crowds and gatherings and to practice social distancing.  

A few moments ago, I signed an executive order which will require the wearing of masks or face coverings when inside any retail establishments when inside any retail establishments, including pharmacies or convenience stores or when riding on any form of public transportation in Maryland.  It also requires all essential retail establishments to require their staff to wear face coverings and require those businesses to put in place appropriate social distancing measures in order to keep their customers and their staff safe. To give these retailers time to make these adjustments, this order will go into effect beginning Saturday at 7 a.m.  I want to commend hot spots for already taking actions in their local jurisdictions, including Anne Arundel, Prince George’s, Montgomery and Charles counties. The CDC has issued detailed guidance on how you can make homemade cloth face coverings which is on our coronavirus website at coronavirus.maryland.gov. In our immediate efforts, this is really another important step in our efforts to help out the state, but the wearing of masks may have to become more accustomed to in order to safely reopen our state.  

Now our recovery plans will have four critical building blocks.  First, the need to exponentially expand our capabilities. We have already greatly expanded Maryland’s testing capacity by ordering 5,000 tests, and we are on track with an even more better plan to triple our capacity up to 10,000.  The state has recently procured an additional 40,000 tests, including 30,000 that will be, that will utilize the state’s testing facilities. The other testing that’s occurring in medical facilities throughout the state. Today the state entered into a separate agreement to acquire a substantial number of antibody tests.  This will be particularly valuable as we look towards the recovery phase. A necessary building block to reopening is increasing our hospital surge capacity by 6,000 beds. It’s an ambitious plan that we are delivering on a week ahead of schedule. Last week, we completed work on the hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center.  In partnership with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, we have begun converting Hagerstown Correctional Facility and former hospital in Tacoma Park where we had some of the highest concentration cases in Montgomery and completing the response at Fort Washington Hospital located in Prince George’s County. We are also currently setting up 60 additional response tests in Frederick, Jessup, Hagerstown, Annapolis, Baltimore, Germantown and Randal South.  Third, ramping up our supply of PPE. Within the past week we have received one million additional face shields and 1,000 ICU beds and in the next week we are expecting delivery of 4.5 million additional N95 masks, 290 oxygen concentrators and 252 additional ICU ventilators.  

And fourth, building a robust contact tracing operation that will enable us to investigate every single positive case and to ensure those patients are isolating during the duration of their illness.  We have currently approximately 250 people conducting contact tracing throughout the state and trying to quadruple this force with at least 1,000 dedicated contract tracers by utilizing additional state employees, outside contractors and through other methods.  Last week, we became the first state in the nation to launch statewide strike teams composed of members of the National Guard, local and state health departments and doctors and nurses to bring triage, emergency care, supplies and equipment. The vice president used us as an example for the rest of the nation in a call with the governors last week.  These strike teams have already successfully responded to outbreaks and threatening situations in nursing homes and assisted living facilities and 15 group homes for medically fragile children. And now this week in partnership with FEMA and HHS, we have outfitted Maryland strike teams with three disaster medical assistance teams made up of physicians, nurses, paramedics and safety officers.  These elite teams bring many years of experience and they have been tasked with conducting medical assistance of patients in facilities and they will assist staff with testing and control practices.  

We are continuing to work together with our neighbors in the region and on almost a daily basis.  We have another meeting on Friday with Governor Northam and Mayor Bowser to discuss regional issues as we move forward.  And now switching to my national role as chairman of the governors I have just got off the phone right before I walked down here with Vice President Pence.  I led with my colleagues Vice President Pence on the Coronavirus Task Force. Earlier this afternoon I led a teleconference of the National Governors Association.  It was our 14th such call over the past 30 days where we discussed our coordinated response. Tomorrow we have another call scheduled with the President, the Vice President and federal teams and the states appreciate the partnership with and the assistance from the federal government during this crisis.  However, additional federal action and assistance is critically needed right now if each Governor is going to continue leading on the front line. Without sufficient federal investment, we will be unable to do all the things that we are being asked to do as states put forth the prospect of devastating budget reductions, essential services and potential layoffs which could hinder our ability to provide necessary services and which could also further prolong the economic recovery and severely limit our collective efforts to get people back to work, so I’ve been calling on our national leaders in Washington to put aside partisan politics and differences and try to get this done for the American people.  With that the Trump Administration is supporting the governors and states and asking for help in breaking the logjam so that we can continue working together to fight this pandemic and to get our states back on track.  

Lastly, before I hand it over to some of our key members to make a presentation, I just want to take a brief moment to recognize one of our unsung heroes.  We’ve been doing our very best to keep Marylanders informed and an important part of that has been ensuring that all of our citizens are able to receive proper and equal access to information.  Our American Sign Language interpreter has been a constant presence at our press conferences. I think Jimmy has done a great job of helping us reach our deaf community, and today is actually National ASL Day, so I thought it was the perfect day for us to present Jimmy with a governor’s citation recognizing him for his dedication and selfless service to the people of Maryland, so thank you Jimmy.  With that I’m going to turn it over to our Deputy Secretary of Health, who will provide us with information on our COVID Connect registry and on our contact operations.  

FRAN PHILLIPS:  Thank you Governor, and congratulations Jimmy.  It’s a pleasure to have your services. I have to thank you, Governor Hogan, again for all of those across Maryland that you have led and I want to thank for some of our efforts I want you to know that my colleagues across the country and state health departments have reached out to me and asked for advice and guidance on some of the things.  A couple things to highlight. As the Governor said, we are at the point now of looking at this position in public health which is contact tracing. Contact tracing is another word for investigate and this has been the whole month of what has happened in public health. So we have right now in our public health work force across the state, we have people who are trained and whose job it is to be doing these investigations or that could have been sexually transmitted disease or full-blown outbreak, but now 100 percent of those investigators are engaged in contact tracing around COVID-19 so let me explain the point of contact tracing.  We’ll hear some more on COVID testing. It begins with a positive test and when that happens, contact tracing is triggered the investigator reaches out to that person, and does an extensive interview. What that patient has done for the last two weeks. All of the places that person may have traveled and all the people with whom that person may have been in contact. As the Governor mentioned, because of the success of Marylanders in doing social distancing to stay at home in fact the recent experience of contact tracing is that the circle of contact has become smaller and smaller as people reacting to a positive test say I can tell you exactly where I have been.  I’ve been home and I can tell you exactly who I’ve been with in my household. It’s evidence of cooperation in Maryland. What happens with that contact tracing then from the first case is the investigator can find the contacts. Reach out and investigate where you were. You want to reach people who may have been exposed who put that contact, that known person into isolation an support that person and to monitor their symptoms to find the contact and then reach out to those contacts and then quarantine and have those people get tested. We have, as the Governor said about 250 people. That’s an estimate in public health right now in order to massively increase that work force we will need to ramp up considerably in order that we can meet every single need for each positive state in the case and that is the goal.  The other thing I want to say there are over 800 Marylanders who have stepped forward and voluntarily registered on our website, the COVID website, registered has having recovered from this virus. And nevertheless people have stepped forward. They volunteered to give information. They volunteered to have information come to them as to how they can participate in research, clinical trials. And hear their stories about themselves so we can have contact tracing. We will get past this virus, but right now it’s a moment to stay at home and to do the things that we all have difficulty. Thank you for that. I’ll turn it over to Secretary Churchill to talk about PPE.  

ELLINGTON CHURCHILL:  Thank you Fran. First, I’d like to also thank Governor Hogan for his leadership on the situation during these times.  I hear from the vendors and reach out to our department the COVID at the direction of office of state attorney has developed cross function sources Department of Health, Transportation, and Housing developed.  It continues to strive by personal protective equipment, ventilators and other critical material base and local jurisdictions. In addition, over the past months we have worked with our partners to source, order and deliver and to supply equipment and services to the Baltimore Convention Center and other temporary medical sites across the state.  We are working seven days a week to ensure that the products and services and acquires coordinating logistics for various operational support throughout the state as related to the COVID-19 response. As the Governor has indicated, it’s placing big orders. Orders of this size, we are receiving delivery. Over the past week we have received a number of different elements, including face shields, surgical supplies including masks, gloves, hand sanitizer, bleach and equipment.  Over the next seven days we are expecting delivery of oxygen concentrators, oxygen ventilators including N95 masks for hospital use and KN95 masks. As the weeks progress and in the months ahead our warehouse will continue to receive large deliveries of critical PPE equipment again such as the N95 and KN95 surgical masks and in addition to this critical PPE it’s worth noting that the support with this, our partners and managing all the equipment such as ventilators, x-ray machines, radiological support, medical supply, diagnostic equipment furnishing and all the related equipment it will serve, we are very appreciative of the overwhelming response, stepped up and reached out to our on-demand PPE equipment and we continue to allocate additional resources to review incoming orders that are arriving, and offers that are coming in.  We encourage suppliers who may have items of need to reach out to resource mema@Maryland.gov. We can resource. Finally, I’d like to take a brief moment to thank the entire team working in the shadows of their makeshift home offices for fielding calls and writing orders, including our officers, sourcing specialists, experts and emergency response specialists all who are working extended hours seven days a week and they are providing the solid foundation to keep those who are on the front lines stopped. With that I thank you, Governor, and I will turn it over to Ron McGrath, chairman and CEO of the Maryland Environmental Services.  

ROY McGRATH:  Good afternoon.  I’d like to begin by thanking Governor Hogan, who has demonstrated exceptional leadership in our state.  There is leadership that have stepped forward not typical in usual responsibilities. Some of us with transferrable skills have used to use those skills in a way that effectively helps the state serve as citizens.  Some very active. I’d like to add my thanks to those who are helping to try to help this crisis. Weeks ago Governor Hogan asked that I serve the state by putting my experience as a former member of his executive staff in my more than 20 years of pharmacy and advocacy experience to work on the state’s coronavirus response.  My team at Department of Environmental Services is doing an incredible job for the state, county and the 228 cities and towns across Maryland that we serve providing essential services such as wastewater management, recycling, solid waste services and ensuring that these continue uninterrupted. I’d like to thank my incredible teammates for a great number of them teleworking at home for the first time and doing a yeoman’s job.

Over the past week Maryland’s success has been in aligning key departments and agencies involving coronavirus response.  As you heard earlier, the Departments of Health, Emergency Management, General Service and Commerce, among others are all working closely together in order to accomplish our task.  As Governor Hogan said, one of the principal challenges faced by states across the nation has been ramping up our testing capacity here in Maryland. Testing equipment and supplies remain in profound demand throughout the nation and the globe.  Maryland is making good progress and I’d like to re-emphasize some of the examples Governor Hogan shared with me today.  

The state recently secured the necessary materials to perform more than 40,000 tests with a combination of suppliers including Abbott Labs and NGI.  30,000 of these tests will utilize the state’s testing machine which means faster deployment and increased testing in Maryland now. These states have complemented other testing that as the Governor mentioned is occurring in private and commercial routes.  A limited number of these rapid tests and the state continues to work with Abbott and other suppliers in order to require more quick turnaround. In closing I also want to acknowledge the hundreds of companies. Secretary Churchill touched on that. Many of them here in our state providing services and supplies to the coronavirus emergency management agency.  Together with other state agencies, we are focused on an efficient way of reviewing and responding to everything so we want to thank them sincerely to their commitment to Maryland and our focused response to the coronavirus. With that I’d like to turn back to Governor Hogan.  

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Thank you for all these team members.  These people barely get any sleep. They work 24 hours a day to help with the need for essential services and got a chance to do that.  Other than that, I appreciate all the great work. I’ll take a question.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I think everybody would like to know when we are going to get back to a normal life and that’s the kind of thing we have been thinking about and planning about for many weeks now with many people.  As I mentioned earlier, we don’t know the exact answers to those questions but we are starting to slow that growth slightly. We have not yet reached the peak and now we are taking our foot off the accelerator there, but when we start to see the right metrics we have a plan we are putting together and next week we’ll be announcing some further details about that.  Before you can each start that we have to do these core things I mentioned today, but sometime in the next week we’ll be laying out not the exact details of a final plan, but at least we’ll hopefully have some progress and some metrics and some further discussion to help people get some certainty of when we might start to pick up.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Nobody knows exactly when it’s going to be.  The President is going to have a call with the governors talking about they have a national federal team working on guidelines in each of the states looking at these independently or in groups.  Our internal experts have differences of opinions about what the new normal is going to look like. We are going to have to lay out a final plan in the next week or so that says what that’s going to be but everybody wants to get back to normal.  I want to get back to normal. Everybody here does. You want to make people feel like they are going to get their lives back. We want to get our economy back. We want people to get back to work, but we want to do so in a safe and best way because the worst possible thing we can do is to take action too quickly and have like New York has and thousands of people die and thousands of people sick.  It’s very hard to get that back.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Our goal is getting up for us.  The size of our state it’s probably the most aggressive goal that I think again that I think we put out there but we believe that we are going to be on track.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  We have the leading public health expert from Johns Hopkins on our Coronavirus Task Force and we are talking about thousands are hiring.  Just came up with that. I know it’s what Massachusetts, Charles Baker, who is a friend of mine from the National Governors Association, the goal is about a thousand but we are going to do whatever it takes to try to get people on track, but it wouldn’t be possible with under 100,000.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  As the testing becomes more readily available and as different types of tests will become available some will be rapid tests, some will be antibody tests.  Some will be the ones that take a longer period of time. We’ll be able to test more people and there would be different utilizations with different types of tests and it will be much more widely available.  Right now because of the limited amount and there were requirements about we would only have the same tests and I think we will be able to get to the point where we will be able to test people who have contact, people that we believe are in compromised positions and people that we think we might be able to help out.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  What an interesting dynamic that’s played out over the past 24 hours, so it was obviously some quite a bit of coverage on this in the last 24 hours.  The President said he was in charge. He was going to tell the governors what to do. He completely reversed and did a 180 at his press conference at the end of the day saying governors will make their own decisions in their own states.  Look, I think we are going to have a productive session hopefully with the President and that’s tomorrow with all the governors. I had a very full productive discussion with all the governors today. I believe that we are partners in this.  There are some smart people on the President’s task force. I think they can give us some good guidelines and governors can partner with the states and we can follow recommended guidelines and then the governors make a pact to share information and facts and ideas that help us and there are certain roles that the government should play and can play but I think the governors are going to make their own decisions within those recommended guidelines.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I think we are hopeful.  What I can say today is because of all the sacrifices that everybody has made today, because we’ve done a really good job of people staying home and I know how hard it’s been.  And people are itching to get back, but you know, right now we are like two weeks behind New York and Louisiana. We don’t want to see those numbers. We are not one of those states that are coming down.  We are still going up in the whole Washington metropolitan area. Pretty concerning numbers. I just talked about 18,000. 349 dead. We think we are making a difference, but the worst possible thing that could happen would be for people to say it’s not that bad.  Let’s go back to normal. So we can’t do that.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  We have actually been talking about it for three or four weeks because we always knew that the reopening decisions were going to be even harder than the closing decisions so we have had really smart people that, from looking at this from an economic standpoint, from a public health standpoint, from, you know, all the epidemiologists, experts and our internal teams.  We’ve been thinking about this and planning it for a long time. We are going to take further steps and bring in more people and start to just come up with a longer term plan, but it is too soon to say yes, we are going to start opening up. Not too soon to start laying out what that would look like and maybe start considering when the first steps might take place. Sorry.  I’m sorry. It’s hard to hear that.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  There is a lot of sharing of information between and amongst the governors, of all the governors of the 50 states and territories involved in our group.  And there has been a lot of sharing of information in smaller groups of governors. Like we’ve had the discussions with Mayor Bowser and the Governor of Virginia and our region, but I’ve had numerous discussions with the Governor of Delaware and talked with probably 20 or 30 governors in individual conversations around the country.  Governor Cuomo and Governor Baker, New England area got together. Individual regions and groups of governors I think it’s fine. It’s good for them to be talking about sharing best practices and doing things collectively. But we’ve been doing that for quite sometime. I don’t think there is one size fits all. I think the administration is recognizing that.  I think it was suggested yesterday with the President that some states are different than others and people are going to take different actions.  

(Question off mic.) 

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  On the first question, it’s going to be, I don’t have an exact number, but we definitely are going to be looking at the hospitalization rates, the ICU beds and the death numbers.  Those are things we are looking at more so than just the number of cases. As we ramp up testing dramatically, the numbers of cases will go up. That doesn’t necessarily mean it might not be a bad thing because we are testing people and finding things.  That might be a good thing. But the hospitalization rates and the people getting sicker and the number of deaths is the thing we are keeping an eye on. We’ll have some metrics, but it’s not a set number. It’s more of a pattern and to see if things are levelling versus increasing in all of those categories.  I don’t know anything about, I saw the coverage but I don’t know.  

SPEAKER:  In connection with that facility, protocol the Pennsylvania Health Department contacted us for those individuals and we in turn contacted the facility and our experts at state health department walked us through what they were already doing with respect to isolation and control and all the steps they were taking in order to make sure that the rest of the residents were safe.  We found out about that and we acted, we contacted the facility to make sure they were abiding with all of the protocols.  

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Thank you.