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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

TRANSCRIPT: Roadmap to Recovery Update May 13, 2020

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  On March 5th, I held a press conference informing Marylanders that we had confirmed the first three positive cases of coronavirus in Maryland.  In order to mobilize all of the state resources, I immediately declared a state of emergency.  Since then we have taken a series of bold, aggressive actions to successfully flatten the curve and avoid the nightmare scenario projected by public health experts.

As of today we have had 34,812 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland.  A total of 6,404 have been hospitalized in our state, and tragically 1,694 Marylanders have died from this disease.  But together our actions and sacrifices prevented hundreds of thousands of Marylanders from being infected and saved the lives of thousands of our friends, neighbors, and family members.  This global pandemic has caused and is continuing to cause great hardship for so many people, not just here in our state, but all across America and around the globe.  To the victims and the families of those who contracted this deadly virus, for the front line healthcare workers, the doctors, nurses, and first responders, for the small business owners and their employees who are fighting for economic survival, and for the hundreds of thousands of Marylanders and tens of millions of Americans who suddenly lost their jobs through no fault of their own and are struggling to pay their bills or to put food on the table, this truly is one of the most daunting challenges that our state and our nation has ever faced.  

Unfortunately the fight against this deadly disease is far from over.  But because of the incredible courage you have shown and the extraordinary sacrifices you have made, Maryland and our nation can now at least begin to slowly recover.

Three weeks ago we introduced our Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery, a safe, gradual, and effective plan which followed the guidelines issued by both the White House reopening plan for America and the National Governors Association’s Guide to Recovery for States, and incorporated many of the principles of the American Enterprise Institute’s Roadmap to Reopening and the Johns Hopkins Principles for a Phased Reopening.  We also solicited input from our team of scientists, public health, and business experts and our multiagency state government coronavirus team to create this well thought out recovery plan for Maryland.  The plan contained four essential building blocks which needed to be in place before we could begin stage one of our recovery efforts:  Expanded testing, increased hospital surge capacity, and supply of PPE, and a robust contact tracing operation.  We made it clear three weeks ago that if Marylanders continued staying home and continued practicing physical distancing, we were hopeful that the key metrics we were tracking, the rate of hospitalizations and the number of patients in ICU, would begin to plateau or decline in early May.  

Two weeks ago we declared we were no longer on defense but going on offense, aggressively going after outbreaks and clusters, focusing our attention and resources on the hotspot areas with the highest concentrations of cases, while increasing mitigation efforts on the remaining areas of the state.  Last week with our four building blocks in place and a solid week of encouraging numbers, including a slight but significant decrease in hospitalizations and a consistent plateauing of our ICU numbers, our coronavirus recovery team unanimously recommended revised guidelines which allowed for elective medical procedures to resume at the discretion of local hospitals and healthcare providers, and the broadening of the list of safe outdoor activities.  We also gave local governments the flexibility to take certain actions at their discretion.  We have been continuing to closely follow the key metrics over the past week, and today I am pleased to announce that Maryland has achieved the 14-day trend of plateauing and declining numbers.  The number of coronavirus hospitalizations is down from two weeks ago.  The number of COVID ICU patients has plateaued for a significant period of time and is trending down over the past 14 days.  The rate of new deaths is also trending downwards.  This allows us to cautiously and safely begin stage one of the recovery plan.  Effective this Friday, May 15, at 5:00 p.m., we will be lifting the stay-at-home order and we will be moving instead to a safer at-home public health advisory.  Based on extensive input from our coronavirus recovery team and with guidance provided by the comprehensive reports from our 15 industry-specific advisory groups, we are also issuing guidelines for the safe reopening of the following beginning at 5:00 p.m. on Friday May 15:  Retail stores in Maryland may reopen with up to 50% capacity and with strong social distancing, masking, and other safety precautions and while continuing to strongly encourage curb side pickup and delivery; manufacturing may resume operations in a safe manner which protects the health of their employees, with guidelines encouraging multiple shifts to limit the number of people working at the same time, limiting proximity of employees and other safety precautions; some personal services including barber shops and hair salons may reopen up to 50% capacity by appointment only and with appropriate safety guidelines; pet groomers, animal adoption shelters, car washes, art galleries, and some other activities will also be able to begin reopening; churches and houses of worship may begin to safely hold religious services.  Faith and worship are such an essential part of the lives of so many people.  Holding services outside is strongly encouraged.  Religious leaders are strongly urged to do everything possible to keep their congregants safe and particularly to protect the elderly and the vulnerable within their congregations.  Inside services may be permitted at 50% capacity or less with appropriate distancing, masking, and safely protocols strongly advised.

Reopening businesses are encouraged to take the Maryland strong back to business pledge, which would help assure their customers and members of the public that they are adhering to best practices and strict safety guidelines in order to keep Marylanders safe.  This back to business pledge can be printed and posted on your store front.  Visit open.maryland.gov/backtobusiness.

Yesterday I led another call with County Executives and local officials from every jurisdiction in the state.  I assured our county leaders that as we begin to slowly and cautiously lift restrictions at the state level, that we are providing for a flexible community-based approach which empowers individual county leaders to make decisions regarding the timing of stage one reopenings in their individual jurisdictions.  As our state cautiously moves forward, we fully understand that not all counties are in the same situation.  Just four of Maryland’s twenty-four jurisdictions currently account for more than 70% of our state’s total confirmed cases:  Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties have the highest number of cases, and they have made it clear that they are not yet ready to move into stage one, while many other counties with a lower number of cases feel strongly that they are able to do so.

I want to be very clear, while lifting the stay-at-home order and gradually moving into stage one of our recovery is a positive step forward, it does not mean that we are safe or that this crisis is over.  Low risk does not mean no risk.  All Marylanders, particularly those older and more vulnerable populations, are advised to continue staying home as much as possible.  Employers should continue to encourage telework for their employees whenever possible.  Individuals who can work from home should continue to do so.  People should continue wearing masks in indoor public areas, retail stores, and on public transportation.  We know that in general, outside activity is safer than inside activity, and that at all times and everywhere, Marylanders should continue practicing physical distancing and trying to stay six feet apart and to continue avoiding close gatherings of 10 people or more.  Everyone should keep washing their hands often and frequently sanitizing high-touch areas.

If these stage one activities resume successfully, without a spike in hospitalizations, sustained spike in ICU cases, or significant unforeseen outbreaks of widespread community transmission, then we will be in position to move to stage two of our plan.  Unfortunately the painful truth is that this virus will continue to be with us and to be a part of our daily lives, and potential outbreaks will continue to remain a deadly threat until a vaccine is widely available.  Each and every one of us has an obligation to continue to exercise responsibility for ourselves, for our families, our coworkers, and our fellow Marylanders so that as a community, together, we can begin to safely get back to work and get back to our daily lives.  As we begin stage one of our recovery, I want to assure every Marylander who may feel uneasy and anyone who is concerned that we are moving either too quickly or too slowly, that each and every decision that we make is both fact based and science based and is made only after extensive consultation with our expert coronavirus recovery team.  We are continually monitoring this crisis.  We remain focused on the clusters, outbreaks, and hotspots, and I can assure you that we remain ready to quickly and decisively respond to any changes in the facts on the ground that we will continue to attack this virus with every tool at our disposal.

This crisis has tested all of us in nearly every way imaginable, but it has also revealed the true character of Marylanders.  It has shown our ability to overcome any challenge and our capacity to show remarkable courage in the face of great threats and overwhelming obstacles.  Maryland has been and will remain at the forefront of fighting this pandemic.  We’re producing essential equipment for our front-line healthcare heroes, and we are driving innovations to treat this disease, to create a vaccine, and to save lives.  And most of all, we’re showing America and the world the power of compassion, generosity, and strength.  We still have miles to go on this road, but we are all in it together, and if we stay strong, Maryland strong, we will get through this together.

With that, I’ll be happy to take questions.

SPEAKER:  There are those out there who will say it’s not time yet.  How difficult was it to coordinate this decision?  How confident are you going forward that we’ll be able to keep it under control?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  They’re all very difficult decisions, and it’s something that we’ve been working on and thinking about for many, many weeks.  It’s part of our plan that we rolled out about three weeks ago.  We’ve been constantly watching and looking at this and talking with all the experts.  Again, in consultation with all of our local leaders and with our scientists and doctors and business leaders, we’re hopeful that the plan is the right one.  But we’re going to continue to watch and continue to monitor this on a daily basis, but we believe it’s the right decision at this point in time, and obviously some people think we’re moving too fast and some think we’re moving too slow, so it’s probably about the right move.

(Question off mic).

I think there are concerns about that, yes.

SPEAKER:  A couple weeks ago you said (inaudible) —

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  When I laid out the plan three weeks ago, I said we would see a plateauing, leveling, flattening of the numbers and look for a decline.  The we have a plateauing, leveling, flattening, and a decline of the numbers, exactly what we were hoping for.

SPEAKER:  Lifting the stay-at-home order, does that mean the out-of-state travel ban is no longer in place?  And the quarantine that goes along with that?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  They were both just recommendations.  There never was an order regarding any kind of mandatory quarantine.  We were just advising people traveling from out of town that they should consider quarantining but that was never part of an order.  We’re still asking people to exercise caution and good judgment, but it wasn’t part of any stay-at-home order.

SPEAKER:  — any plans to adjust that or close that?  A lot of business owners say, I can’t hang in there much longer.  What advice do you have for those folks who are doing their best?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  First question, our goal was not to fill up the surge hospitals.  It was to have them on hand and not fill them up.  The whole idea was to stop the 300,000 infections and the 12,000 deaths that were predicted and that’s what we’ve been successfully doing, but we had to have the surge capacity in case we did and/or do get those spikes.  I’m very happy that those surge hospitals are not overflowing with sick patients right now.  I’m happy we have them on hand in case we do need them.

With respect to the businesses, look, I am a lifelong small business owner who ran for office because I wanted to grow small businesses and put people to work and grow our economy.  This is the worst economy since the Great Depression.  I feel for those business owners.  I understand they want to get reopened and I understand people need to get back to work.  But we are going about this in what we believe to be a safe way and we’re trying to take into consideration both the economic and the health considerations at the same time, and we did it in conjunction with the best advice from all of the plans in conjunction with our 15 business work groups, with our business leaders and our scientists, and we’re trying to move at the right pace.  I’m anxious to move into phase two and get the rest of the businesses open, but a lot of it depends on how everyone treats this first phase.  If everybody goes crazy and does things that are unsafe, we’re going to balloon back up and slow down the process.  If everybody responds responsibly, we’ll be able to move forward quicker.

SPEAKER:  With the expanded opening of businesses — (Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  It’s one of the things we’re trying to grapple with.  We have a capacity now with the essential worker daycares open and run by the school system, and we’re broadening that to include more people going back to work.  But Dr. Karen Salmon is working on a reopening plan which I think we’ll have early next week to safely reopen additional daycares for those folks going back to work.

(Question off mic).

Yeah, so part of that is because we flattened the curve and we took an early and aggressive action.  So our curve we’re hitting later in the process than other places that have already ballooned up around the county because of actions that we took.  But part of it is because of our population centers.  They said 70% of our infection rates are in four counties.  I think 50% of it is in the two counties surrounded Washington, and Washington, Prince George’s, and Montgomery County right now are three hotspots in the country behind New York.

(Question off mic).

We’ve had great ongoing continuing discussions and great collaboration with both the District and Virginia.  We just had a discussion I believe it was Friday with Governor Northam and Mayor Bowser.  And we’re more in sync I guess with where Virginia is than where D.C. is because we’re more alike.  We have urban and suburban and rural areas.  Of course the District is simply an urban area.  The District’s issues look more like Northern Virginia and our Washington suburbs, and that’s not the same as the Eastern Shore, western Maryland, southern Virginia.  But we certainly got good input from both of them and took into consideration what was going on in both the District and Virginia.  And I think we’re all in accord on what’s going on and working together on regional issues.

(Question off mic).

We’re going to do everything we can to continue to assist County Executives in PG County.  They do have a serious problem.  They do have our highest infection rate and our highest number of cases, and it’s why we focus so much of our attention and it’s why we’re on hospital surge capacity on where we’re putting PPE and try to focus more testing.  And we understand exactly the issues she’s dealing with and we’re trying to provide the support.  We’re in constant communication.  We had a great conversation.  But we’ll work collaboratively with her.  We don’t want them to do anything they feel is unsafe for their county, and I think we’ll jointly be following the progress there, and we want them to get their numbers down and we want collectively to say, we’ve made great progress here, PG County is ready to open but we don’t want them to do it if they don’t feel it’s safe.

(Question off mic).

We talked about that in our county call yesterday with all the county leaders.  I think Anthony Brown is confused.  I don’t think he understands the difference between swabs and test extraction kits and test kits.  So a lot of people are confused by this.  But there’s nine different components that go into this testing.  The thing that we have a huge supply of test kits.  We have a half a million of them.  They never ever go out to the counties and never will.  Those kits are the last.  That’s what the scientists use to do the actual, you know, when they finalize the testing.  They don’t go out to anywhere.

What goes out to the counties are the swabs and the extraction tubes, where they stick the thing in your nose, they put it inside a plastic tube with an agent, and they send those off to the lab, who takes that test kit and does the study and gets the results and sends it back.

So we’ve been great, better than almost anybody in the country, on test kits.  As I said when I made the announcement, we were able to get a half a million test kits but as I announced then, we were very short, as was everybody in the country, on swabs, reagents, and lab capacity.

In the lab capacity, we invested in the University of Maryland.  We’re ahead of schedule on a new lab that will be able to process 20,000 tests a day.  We went from 50 tests a day to 8,000 some now.  Our goal was 10,000, which we should be at very shortly.  We’re up to speed on that.

We just yesterday got our first swabs and the extraction kits from FEMA, which we’ve been asking for for months.  We told the counties, Prince George’s County, we will get those out to them very shortly so they can start to do more testing.  But Anthony Brown is talking about why haven’t we sent these test kits that actually get labs out to the counties, that’s never going to happen and was never part of the plan.

SPEAKER:  Last question.

SPEAKER:  The swabs that you requested from FEMA, how many came in the first shipment?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  We requested 350,000.  They’ve committed to 225,000, and I think we got 75,000 yesterday with another 125,000 that are supposedly days away.  Along with the tubes and the stuff that goes with them.  So it’s not enough, but it helps us.  We’ve been able — I think what we’ve been doing so far is all of the nursing homes, the Salisbury, all the hotspots is where we’ve been using them.  But the counties, we’re short of those things.  There were no swabs really in America.  There was one place in the world that made them.  It was in Italy.  The President used the Defense Production Act to force companies in America to produce swabs, and they finally have and FEMA is slowly getting them out to us finally.  I announced that was the big thing we were missing.

All right.  Thank you.