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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

TRANSCRIPT: COVID-19 Press Conference April 24, 2020

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Good afternoon.  Joining me today are secretary Kelly Schulz of the Maryland Department of Commerce and Dr. Tom Inglesby, a member of our Maryland coronavirus response team and the direct of the Center for Health Security at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health who just published a principled work of phased reopening for Johns Hopkins.

Over the past several weeks, we have been consulting with leading experts and public health scientists like Dr. Inglesby and former FDA commissioner and other members of our coronavirus response team.  He was an adviser to the President’s coronavirus task force, and authored the American Enterprise Institute’s roadmap to reopening.

We’ve been working with both of them and our larger team of experts to develop a well thought out safe, effective, and gradual roadmap to recovery for Maryland.

On Wednesday, in my role as chairman of the National Governors Association, I released an NGA report giving guidance to all of the governors across America regarding how to safely open their states.

Maryland’s roadmap to recovery, which we are launching today, utilizes the guidelines which were issued by the White House last week, incorporates many of the principles of my NGA plan, and much of the work of the plan’s release by AEI and Johns Hopkins.

We also solicited input from our team of scientists, public health and business experts, and our multiagency state government coronavirus team in order to create this roadmap for the recovery of Maryland.

The result is a well thought out, gradual, safe, and effective path forward for the people of our state.

The federal guidelines issued by the President last week call for states to meet specific metrics before considering lifting restrictions.  That includes a 14-day downward trend in key numbers.

Here in Maryland, we took some of the earliest and most aggressive actions in the nation to slow the spread of COVID-19.  Because of those efforts of everyone, we have far fewer cases, hospitalizations, and deaths than all of the models were calling for.  We have been successful in flattening and lengthening the curve in our state, and we have not had the very high spikes that you have seen in other states.

That is also why we are several weeks behind those other states who spiked and peaked earlier.  The number of new cases of COVID-19 is still rising here in Maryland, and throughout the Maryland, D.C., and Virginia region.  And by the federal standards instituted last week and under the guidance given in the studies and reopening plans that we cited, Maryland is not yet able to lift our restrictions.  We are dramatically increasing the amount of testing here in Maryland, and as a result, we are going to continue to see the number of total cases increasing.

For the purposes of our planning, the key numbers that we are most focused on are the rate of hospitalizations and the numbers of patients being admitted to ICU.  We are watching these numbers very closely on a daily basis, and when we start to see that downward trajectory or a consistent plateauing of those metrics, that can put us in a position to consider lifting the stay-at-home order and beginning our gradual safe and effective recovery plan.

As of Wednesday, we have made considerable progress on all four of the building blocks which needed to be firmly in place before we could consider lifting restrictions.  First, we have exponentially expanded our testing capability.  Second, we are exceeding our goals to increase hospital surge capacity.  Third, we are making progress in increasing the supply of PPE.  And fourth, rebuilding a robust force of contact tracers and launching a state-of-the-art contact tracing platform called COVID Link.

These four building blocks being in place gives us the public health infrastructure to try to attack this virus from every direction, and this has allowed us to be in the best position possible to begin our reopening and recovery just as soon as we reach the necessary trends in the critical metrics.

I’m optimistic that if Marylanders continue staying home and continue practicing physical distancing a little while longer, that our numbers could continue to plateau.  And I’m hopeful that we could then be able to begin our recovery in early May.

Our Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery has three stages.  Stage 1 would begin by lifting the stay-at-home order and it would include the reopening of many of our small businesses.  We would be able to restart many of our lower-risk community activities and quality of life improvements, changes that could occur during our first stage would include the reopening of certain businesses and retail shops, the reopening of golf courses and recreational boating and fishing, tennis, outdoor religious activities, along with outdoor fitness and gym classes, and resuming outpatient procedures in certain counties with lower cases concentration of cases.

Local governments could also have additional flexibility to open things, including local parks and playgrounds, municipal recreation centers and libraries if they deem the appropriate safety protocols could be followed.  These decisions would be based on the ability to continue physical distancing and to continue to limit person to person contact.

If stage 1 activities resume successfully without a spike in deaths, a sustained spike in ICU cases, or significant unforeseen outbreaks of community transmission, we would then be in a position to move into stage 2, where a larger number of businesses would open, nonessential workers who cannot telework could return to work, and other public activities would be able to come back online.  Indoor religious gatherings could resume with perhaps limited capacity and physical distancing measures.  It would include raising the limits on the number of people in social gatherings.  Perhaps the returning to a more normal public transit schedule and the opening of restaurants and potentially bars with significant safety restrictions.

And then the third and final stage would be reinstituting higher-risk activities such as larger social gatherings, events, religious gatherings and activities at entertainment venues, and a further lessening of restrictions at hospitals, and eventually nursing homes.

I want to stress that each of these recovery stages will need to be instituted in a safe, gradual, and effective manner.  If we try to rush this and if we don’t do it in a thoughtful and responsible way, it could cause a rebound of the virus, which could deepen the economic crisis, prolong the fiscal problems, and slow our economic recovery.  I’m a lifelong small businessman.  The entire focus of my administration has been growing the private sector, creating jobs, and turning our economy around.  It’s the reason I ran for Governor.  It breaks my heart to see so many Marylanders struggling and going through so much economic pain.  So let me be very, very clear:  Other than keeping Marylanders safe, saving lives and beating this hidden enemy, there is absolutely nothing more important to me than getting people back to work, getting our small businesses reopened, and getting our economy back on track.  And I want to assure you that we are going to do everything we possibly can to do that just as quickly as we possibly can in a safe way.

In the days and weeks ahead, we will continue to be open and transparent.  We will continue to keep Marylanders as fully informed on the facts as we possibly can.  Since day one of this crisis, we’ve been making our decisions based on the best advice of an incredible coronavirus response team, which includes some of the smartest scientists and public health experts in the world.  And as we move into this recovery phase, we’re going to continue to rely on their advice, and also on the advice of some additional business and economic leaders.

Our coronavirus response team has now transitioned into a coronavirus recovery team with some additional distinguished leaders who have joined this effort, including my partner in government, Lieutenant Governor Boyd Rutherford, who has been a major part of all our efforts; Arne Sorenson, the President and CEO of Marriott International, who is the cochair of the COVID-19 task force of the business roundtable; Robert Doar, leading economist and the President of AEI, the American Enterprise Institute; Kevin Plank, the executive chairman of Under Armour and trustee of the University of Maryland foundation; Jim Davis, the chairman and cofounder of Allegis Group, the largest staffing firm in the United States; Mark McManus, who is the general President of the UA, the United Association, which represents 355,000 members of the building trades and local unions all across North America; and Augie Chiasera, who is the President of M&T Bank’s Baltimore and Chesapeake regions and a board member of the economic alliance of greater Baltimore.

The coronavirus recovery team will be advising us and helping guide our real-time decisions on Maryland’s recovery and reopening process.  We have also assembled 15 industry-specific advisory groups which will be coordinated by our Department of Commerce and the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives.  Leaders from key industry sectors, including small businesses, retail, restaurants, financial services, construction, manufacturing, and many more, as well as representatives from churches, faith-based organizations, service organizations, and nonprofits, are developing plans with proposed recommendations and guidelines determining how their industries can reopen in a way that can keep their employees, their customers, and the public safe.

I want to stress that even as we begin our recovery, we won’t be able to just flip a switch.  Unfortunately, life is not going to just immediately go back to normal.  In fact, it is important to recognize that until a vaccine is developed, the way we go about our daily lives and the way we work is going to be significantly different for a while longer.  But as we begin to reopen, it will continue to be important for Marylanders, particularly older and more vulnerable Marylanders, to continue to stay home as much as they can.  And all Marylanders should continue to avoid crowds and gatherings, and they should continue to practice physical distancing and to take precautions to protect themselves, their families, and their fellow Marylanders.

The full details of our Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery, the federal guidelines, the NGA plan, as well as the AEI and Hopkins reports are all available at governor.maryland.gov/recovery.

Together we are going to beat this deadly virus, and together the state of Maryland will return stronger and better than ever.

And now I’m going to turn the mic over to Dr. Tom Inglesby, who is going to discuss our current health situation here in Maryland and talk about where we currently are in the curve and what we should be looking for in order to begin stage 1 of our recovery process.

TOM INGLESBY:  Thank you, Governor Hogan.  It’s good to be with you and your team here.  I wanted to start by offering my words of support for the direction you are leading the state here.  We all want the state to reopen as quickly as it can, but it’s clear that if we open the state today, we would risk a fast acceleration.

The early social distancing measures put in place by the Governor and his team stopped the rapid rise in cases and flattened the curve in Maryland.  New daily cases in the last two weeks have been plateauing.  If we hadn’t put social distancing measures in place the way they have been instituted, the numbers in this state would still have been going up rapidly, perhaps doubling every 5-6 days as they have in many places in the world.

At this point, for the state to move forward in easing social distancing, in a lower risk way, there needs to be a period of declining hospitalization and ICU stays and deaths from COVID in Maryland.  There isn’t a decline yet, and we need to keep going to get to a point where the numbers are starting to move downward.

As we wait for that decline to happen, we also need to be moving as quickly as possible to ensure three other important conditions are in place in the state:  We need to have widely available diagnostic testing, and at rifle of 500,000 tests in Maryland this week, in addition to the other testing efforts that are underway, has changed that situation dramatically for the better.  We need to have enough masks, gowns, and gloves for our healthcare workers and others in critical positions that are high risk, and that is something that the state and hospitals are fighting for all the time.  There’s a lot of work going on around that.  And we also need to have built strong capacity to isolate cases, trace contacts, and have them get into quarantine.  It’s really great news to hear that the state has been able to hire a substantial workforce to do that work so we can start to make rapid progress to break the change of transmission of COVID in our state.

When reopening does happen, it will be important for people to understand the settings and work that are lower risk versus more high risk.  Outdoors will be safer than indoors.  Less social interactions will be better than more social interactions.  And closer contact and high density will be higher risk than low density.

When places can take mitigation measures to lower risks, they should be planning on those now to lower the risks the best they can when their businesses begin to reopen.

Unfortunately this virus is going to be in our state and our country until we have a vaccine and our population gets immunity.  So even when the state does begin to reopen, it will be critical for the public to know that its own individual efforts will still be very important.  Taken together, all of our collective actions and decisions will either slow this virus down or speed up the spread.  So we’re going to need to keep wearing cloth masks in public.  We’re going to need to keep our physical space of 6 feet or more.  And we’re going to need to telecommute when we can and it doesn’t disrupt business operations.  All of these things will make a big difference when we add them together collectively.

So in closing, I want to just say again that the plan that the Governor is laying out today is the right path for the state, and I think it’s important now to focus hard on getting the plan and programs in place to lower the risks of reopening when that can begin.

Thanks very much.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I’ll ask our Secretary of Commerce, Kelly Schulz, to talk about our plan going forward.

KELLY SCHULZ:  Thank you very much, Governor.  Thank you for the roadmap that you have laid out today.

The team at the Department of Commerce continues to work furiously to assist our small businesses through our emergency grant and loan funds.  We had to ramp up incredibly quickly and effectively build these new programs on the fly, but we are getting that money out to our small businesses in need.  So far we have identified roughly $25 million worth of eligible applications within our grant program alone, but that’s not enough and we will continue to do more.

We have also received over 230 applications for our emergency manufacturing incentive to support Maryland companies who can produce PPE.  We’re working quickly to process those applications so we can get grants to those great companies.  Thus far we have 15 grants that have been approved for manufacturing innovation.

While we have been taking those immediate steps, we have also been looking ahead towards recovery and reopening.  For the past few weeks our business development team at the Department of Commerce have been working closely with our partners in the business community to form 13 industry recovery advisory groups.  These will allow stakeholders in these industries to provide insight into the most efficient approach to restarting operations while at the same time protecting the health of their employees and of all Marylanders.  As the Governor has said, we will not be able to just flip a switch and go back to business as usual.  We should all expect there to be new safety considerations as we resume our daily lives.

Every industry has unique challenges and may need unique solutions to ensure a clean and healthy workplace.  Our advisory groups are composed of stakeholders from key industry sectors that have been particularly impacted by the pandemic and by the difficult choices we had to make to reduce the spread of COVID-19.  Tourism, to just name one, was hard hit in everything from attractions to casinos to accommodations to those places where people come together such as restaurants and performance venues.  That advisory group was the first one we formed and brings together a variety of tourism and tourism-related industry organizations, business leaders, and partner organizations from throughout Maryland.  They’ll be identifying the critical steps that will need to be taken to get our tourism businesses up and running again, such as working with local health officials to possibly get approval occupancies, retiring the local workforce, or learning how and wondering when to start restocking the goods and relaunching the services that they are performing.

We have also convened specialized panels within the tourism industry for restaurants and bars, accommodations, retailers, attractions, tourism transportation, destination, and sports.

The manufacturing industry advisory group will ensure that industry has a seat at the table for discussions about the steps we’ll take when we’re ready to start opening up again.  We’ll be identifying the critical information that will need to be considered to get our businesses up and running, such as making sure all manufacturers can open.  We know some right now are open and some are not.  In considering a push to buy local and encouraging businesses and consumers to buy from Maryland-based manufacturers, we also know that the price of some raw materials is now at a premium, which poses yet another great challenge for this industry.

After launching the tourism and manufacturing panels, we expanded our scope over the past weeks.  We now have an advisory group for construction and development, one for professional and financial services, and one focused on small businesses which includes personal one on one services and the neighborhood mom and pop shops all across Maryland.

Our advisory groups represent Marylanders from across the state and from across all walks of life.  Each group is compiling recommendations and best practices for how they can operate safely and make sure they are protecting their employees and their customers.

I also want to note that we have convened a Maryland Arts Recovery Advisory Group, a collaboration between the Maryland State Arts Council, the fine arts office of the Maryland State Department of Education, Maryland Citizens for the Arts, and the Arts Education in Maryland Schools.  They are developing a plan for the future of the arts in Maryland, including recommendations for virtual engagement, best practices for in-person engagement, designing a reopening marketing campaign, and strengthening arts advocacy messaging.

Maryland will rebound from this pandemic, but it will require collaboration and teamwork.  There will be open lines of communication between the government and the private sector, and we will work hand in hand with our business community as we continue down this path of recovery.

Thank you.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Thank you, Kelly.

Thank you, Dr. Inglesby.

Kelly mentioned 13 task forces.  I said 15.  Steve McAdams has two additional task forces not business related that are with the faith-based, churches, places of worship, and nonprofit groups that he is also convening and getting their input.

But thank you.

With that, I’ll be happy to answer some questions.

(Question off mic).

I know that’s one of the things that we discussed already with our current coronavirus team and one of the things that we will continue to discuss.  We discussed it both with local government, we have weekly calls with our local government partners.  We’ve had discussions with legislators, and we’ve talked about it with our team of scientists and doctors, and we’ll be making those decisions as we move forward into phase one.  But it is certainly one of the things that we are going to consider and it’s one of the things that I think is possible but we want to also do that in a safe way.

(Question off mic).

First of all, I’m one of the people that’s very frustrated, so I share their frustration.  And I’m sorry people had difficulties with that.  It is now fixed, and I’m happy about that.

We were one of the first states in America to be able to handle this and launch this online.  First of all, I want to thank the Vice President.  Before this meeting, I thanked the President for signing into law today the protection plan.  We’re happy to get that funding out so we can help folks.  We’re happy that they changed the law so we can now get funding out for the first time to 1099 people and to get workers and folks who were not employees.  They were not able to get unemployment before.  So part of the problem was, the normal labor website didn’t have the ability to fill out these things online.  We had 40,000 calls backing up at the call center.  It was hard to do that.

So we developed a brand-new website with a vendor.  We’re one of the first states in America to do that.  We launched that this morning at 7:00 a.m., and it crashed from 7:00 a.m. for about an hour because of the huge volume.

They fixed that within an hour, and they have 35,000 people logged on there to do different things today.  15,000 new claims have been processed.  It’s unfortunate that there are that many people, but I’m happy that 15,000 have been able to process their claims today and 35,000 have been able to access this website while most people in the country are waiting on a phone call.

But I’m very frustrated that the vendor did not have it ready for the volume.  We have expressed that frustration with this outside vendor who developed the website.  They put I think 100 people on it this morning to try to get it fixed.  They did get it back up online.  I think there are still glitches through the day, but it’s performing much better.  We will hold their feet to the fire, make sure they get all the glitches worked out.  But I’m happy we launched the site and I’m sorry it didn’t go up perfectly.

(Question off mic).

It’s not detailed out in our specific plan, but it’s certainly one of the recommendations that the scientists and doctors have made, and it’s something that we’ve put into the report as things that states should consider doing.  This is our 17th call today, by the way, with all the nation’s governors so there’s been a tremendous amount of collaboration and sharing of information.  The report that we put out was at the request of the governors about, hey, let’s put out a set of guidelines and gather all of the best information, send it out to the governors.  Some of the smaller states didn’t have as much gathering of information as we had done here.  Maybe some other states better on top of it.  It’s a set of guidelines we send out for the governors, but we’re taking a lot of that input.  We don’t specifically address that in our Maryland plan today.

(Question off mic).

So under the — first of all, that’s a hopeful.  I wish I had — I want to do it today.  But as Dr. Inglesby said and the President’s plan says, you have to see these numbers.

We are hopeful because we are starting to see some plateauing and numbers starting to round off.  That’s encouraging.  But they’re not where they need to be.

This is guesswork a little bit.  We’re just hopeful that those numbers are going to get better and continue.  We’ve had a couple of days of things that looked better.  But a couple of days, three days, does not make a trend.  We need like 14 days.  So that was hopeful.  I’m still hoping we’re going to do that and I’m going to press to do that.

The President’s plan says you need 14 days, you should have 14 days between phases, a minimum of 14 days, to see the effects of the virus, the length of the virus is about 14 days, so you can see doctors can probably give a better answer, but at least 14 days between phases, the first phase to the second phase.  The later phases take a longer period of time, so I think the phase 2 lasts longer than phase 1, but all is subject to the numbers and watching the numbers.  So it’s a moving target.

SPEAKER:  Could we be on day 3 of a 14-day —

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  It’s possible.  Our team is saying hopefully we’re beginning that trend, and we watch it every day.  Next week I’m going to be saying to my doctors, are we there, can we start to think about this.

(Question off mic).

So we had a couple of days in a row with downward numbers on hospitalizations and ICUs, and then we had one day where we jumped up by I think one number.  So it was like downward and it went up.  But still, there was a slide up here, it goes like this.  It’s a flattening.  It’s not going up like it was.  So it looks like a pattern, but the doctors have said to me, they’re a lot smarter than me, and they say, Governor, three days does not make a trend.  And I’m saying, why not.

[Laughter]

(Question off mic).

For 40 some days, it’s been about flattening the curve and figuring this out virus and what steps can we take to stop it.  We’ve taken almost every single step you can possibly take.  On the very first day, we had our very first case, I declared a state of emergency.  One of the first ones in the country.  First one to close the schools.  One of the first ones to close the bars and restaurants.  We took unprecedented actions.  I’ve done I think 37 executive orders basically dialing things back.  That was based on the advice of the doctors who are staying involved.

But now we’re moving into this potential recovery phase.  We are keeping all of those guys to make sure we do things safely, but we want the advice of the business people about how can you open with these doctors in a safe way.  So we’re now instead of dialing things back, we’re hoping to dial things back up.  We don’t want to just do that without getting the input of businesses.

(Question off mic).

No.  It’s not — I mean, it doesn’t for me because people have talked about, you know, if you’re looking at a thing going generally downward one day, sometimes the numbers are a little bit off because reporting.  Like there’s a batch of cases.  We noticed on Sundays the numbers are down.  They go up on Monday because they don’t put as many of the tests in.  Sometimes they don’t report things until Monday because people took off on Sunday.  So one little day of deviation, I’m not going to say we’re restarting the clock.  It’s what does the trend look like over a period of time.

(Question off mic).

That’s one of the things that Restaurant Association, the restaurant teams will be trying to come up with plans.  We’re going to talk to the doctors.  But I think there’s going to be ways to do it safely.  It’s not going to be, you know, the first thing we do, that’s for sure.  But I think restaurants will be open, be able to open faster than bars.  But if you’re distancing, perhaps people have talked about limiting the occupancy, take out every other table, tables are 6 feet apart, if the servers are masked and gloved, it’s possible to open up restaurants in a safer way.  We’re trying to encourage and have been from day one keeping as many open as possible for curb side and delivery.  We want to get our restaurant workers, we want to keep our restaurants in business and keep those workers working, but we want to make sure everybody is safe.

SPEAKER:  Last question.

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  The nursing homes continues to be one of our biggest issues and concerns.  It’s where many of our cases are.  So those are in the numbers because many of our ICU cases and many of our deaths, sadly, are coming from the nursing homes.  They’re our most vulnerable population, so they are in those numbers.  So that’s why we’re focusing our testing there and that’s where we’ve put these strike teams.  That’s where we have these federal teams coming in to assist us, and nursing homes continues to be a place where we’re concerned about the outbreaks, but we’re not watching different numbers than the nursing homes because they’re calculated into the increased numbers of cases, numbers of hospitalizations, number of ICUs, and number of deaths.  Unfortunately they’re a high percentage of all of this.

Thank you all very much.