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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

TRANSCRIPT: Roadmap to Recovery Update May 27, 2020

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Good evening.  Two weeks ago, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of Marylanders, and after seeing a 14-day downward trend of the key benchmark metrics called for in our Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery, I announced that we were able to cautiously begin entering stage one of our state’s recovery.  

Now, after another 14 days of continued encouraging trends, Maryland is ready to take the additional steps to complete stage one of our gradual, safe, and effective recovery plan.  We have continued to make dramatic progress on a robust testing system in our state.  As of today, Maryland reached its goal of conducting 10,000 tests per day.  We have now completed 300,344 COVID-19 tests statewide, and we are continuing to dramatically expand testing capacity.  

We’re opening another two additional testing sites in Prince George’s County this week, including the VEIP station in Clinton on Thursday and Six Flags America in Upper Marlboro on Friday.  

Additionally, Maryland’s contact tracing operation is now fully operational to support local Health Departments across all of the state’s 24 jurisdictions.  We have increased our state’s contact tracing capacity by nearly 500%, with more than 1400 case investigators now operating statewide.  Maryland is currently able to assist local officials in tracking up to 1,000 cases and 10,000 contacts daily, as part of an all-hands-on-deck effort to find and fight the virus.  This expanded testing and tracing capacity gives us the ability to take a closer and much more accurate look at positivity rates, which are another very important indicator of our recovery and a key metric which is now being used by the CDC and other states to track the containment progress of COVID-19.  This information is now available on our dashboard at coronavirus.maryland.gov.  

The State Department of Health is now using the same rolling 7-day average that is recommended by the new federal CDC guidelines.  In Maryland, our statewide positivity rate peaked 41 days ago on April 17th, when it reached 26.91%.  Since then, it has dropped by more than 50% down to just 12.8% statewide.  Positivity rate in Baltimore City is down 54% from a high of 27.38 on April 19th to 12.71% today.  Baltimore County is equally low at 12.72, and both of them are slightly below the state average.  Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties, while still above the rest of the state with respect to positivity, are also seeing dramatic decreases.  The positivity rate in Prince George’s County has dropped by nearly 50% from a high of 41.96% on May 2nd, to a current rate of 21.66%.  And Montgomery County has also dropped by more than 50% from a high of 32.64% to now 15.84%.  

The average daily death rate has also dropped by more than 50% since the peak which occurred nearly a month ago on April 29th.  

Total hospitalizations are down 22% since their peak on April 30th, and down 17% in just the last 14 days.  The number of patients in ICU has been on a steady level plateau for 28 days since April 29th.  

Over the past two weeks we have been encouraged by all the successful stage one reopenings all across the state and by all the improvements in the important data and metrics statewide.  All of this progress allows us to now safely move forward with the completion of stage one of the recovery plan.  Effective Friday, May 29, at 5:00 p.m., restaurants as well as social organizations such as America Legions, VFWs, Elk’s Clubs, etc., will be able to begin safely reopening for outdoor dining following strict public health requirements consistent with the CDC, the FDA, and the National Restaurant Association.  Restaurant patrons must be appropriately distanced with no more than six people seated at a table.  Restaurants are required to use single-use disposable paper menus or sanitize reusable menus between use, and to sanitize outdoor tables and chairs between each customer seating.  All restaurant staff must be trained in current COVID-19 health and workplace guidelines.  Restaurants must begin screening procedures, including daily temperature checks of all staff.  And masks or face coverings must be worn when interacting with other employees or patrons.  

We are also strongly encouraging local leaders to find innovative ways to help support our restaurant businesses.  We love the idea of closing streets for outside seating in Little Italy and Fells Point in Baltimore City, on West Street and Main Street in Annapolis, on Bethesda Row, and in other towns across the state.  Allowing for the closing of streets and expanding into parking lots and public outdoor spaces can help expand the footprints allowing for safer outdoor dining, and it can help many of these struggling restaurants to survive the crisis.  

Also effective at 5:00 p.m. on Friday, many other outdoor activities will be able to safely resume, including safe youth sports activities, following CDC guidelines, with limited low contact outdoor practices focused on individual skill building with limited group sizes, limited touching of shared equipment and gear, and the ability to engage in physical distancing while not actively engaged in play.  

Youth day camps may resume for outdoor activities with capacity limitations of no more than 10 individuals in a group, and daily COVID symptom checks for youth camp staff and campers.  No out of state or overnight campers will be permitted, and physical distancing and masks will be required for staff and camp attendees.  

Outdoor pools may also reopen with strict safety guidelines, including 25% capacity restrictions and strict physical distancing and sanitation measures.  Patrons will be required to sign in and sign out, and pools will be required to post signage warning anyone who is sick not to enter.  

Drive-in movie theaters will also be able to safely reopen.  

As we did with the beginning of stage one, detailed information and guidelines regarding these additional reopenings is now available at open.maryland.gov/backtobusiness.  

The Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery plan was based on a flexible community-based approach, and at the request of county leaders, we empowered counties to make certain decisions regarding the timing of reopenings in their individual jurisdictions.  23 out of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions have now either entered stage one or have announced their plans to do so.  

And now, as of Friday at 5:00, all jurisdictions statewide are able to move forward with fully completing stage one reopenings.  

Our coronavirus recovery team will be continuing to watch all of the data very closely, and if these encouraging trends continue into next week, we would then be in a position to begin entering stage two of our recovery, which would mean a lifting of the order and allowing other nonessential businesses to begin reopening.  

While we are moving to safely reopen our economy and put more people back to work, we want to continue to strongly stress the need to follow CDC guidelines.  The fight against this virus is by no means over.  We must all remain vigilant, particularly as we begin to come into contact with more people.  Lower risk does not mean no risk.  And safer does not mean completely safe.  Just because you can do something does not mean that you should, particularly if you are a person in a vulnerable category or if you’re around someone who is.  If you can stay home, you should continue to do so as much as you can.  You should continue to avoid crowds of people.  Outdoor activities remain safer than indoor activities.  And if you can work from home, you should continue working from home.  

It remains critical that Marylanders continue practicing physical distancing, staying six feet apart, wearing masks in indoor public areas, including retail stores, and that they avoid using public transportation unless it is absolutely necessary.  Our long-term recovery can only be effective if everyone continues exercising personal responsibility for ourselves, for our families, our coworkers, and our fellow Marylanders.  

48,423 Marylanders have already been infected.  8,281 have been hospitalized.  2,270 Marylanders and now over 100,000 Americans have lost their lives to this deadly virus.  And though we continue to make great progress toward recovery, COVID-19 is still very much a deadly threat, and our responsible behavior is absolutely critical in the continued efforts to defeat it.  

Unfortunately there are still some people who are clearly not taking this pandemic seriously, who are acting recklessly, and whose actions are needlessly putting themselves and others at risk.  And if too many people engage in this type of behavior, it could threaten to cause another spike, which could cause even further destruction to our economy.  But thankfully the vast majority of our citizens clearly understand that while doing things like avoiding crowds and practicing physical distancing and wearing masks may be inconvenient, that these are some of the best tools that we have to continue to slow the spread of the virus and to put us in a position to rebuild and restore our economy and to finally defeat this invisible enemy.  

Time and time again during this difficult period, Marylanders have stepped up and risen to meet this unprecedented challenge.  And while we still have a long way to go, thanks to each and every one of you, we truly are on the road to recovery.  

I will say thank you, and with that, I’ll be happy to answer questions.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Well, I don’t have any magic words, but we’ve been working I think very well with our local leaders.  Our plan, which we rolled out quite a while ago now, called for flexibility in working with the various counties, knowing that different counties were in different points and were being affected differently.  

The county leaders — we were having weekly calls.  The county leaders begged for and requested that flexibility in the decision-making ability on their individual counties, which we gave them.  And then some of them seemed to say we shouldn’t have given them what they asked for.  

Look, I don’t want to criticize any of the county leaders.  I know they all have very difficult jobs.  As I mentioned earlier, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County are higher than the state average.  Baltimore County and Baltimore City are below.  But Montgomery County, Prince George’s County is particularly challenged, and Montgomery County is higher.  So I’m hopeful that he will, the County Executive there, will listen to all the best advice, follow the numbers, and make the decisions that are right for his county.  I don’t know that he’s aware of this information.  This is new CDC guidelines, the fact that his positivity rates have dropped by 53%.  

There seems to be some confusion.  The county leaders aren’t really paying attention to the state plan.  They’re kind of making up their own metrics.  I heard one of the County Executives say our number of cases is continuing to increase, and we can’t do anything until that goes down for 14 days.  Cases are going to go up every single day until we have a vaccine.  I’ve said the case numbers, as we test 300,000 people, every day you’re going to get additional cases.  That’s not really what we look at.  We look at the hospitalizations, the ICUs, and these positivity rates, which all of which are trending in the right direction, including Prince George’s and Montgomery County.  They’re doing great.  They started out in a really bad place, but they’re all following the same trend of downward, cut in half.  So I think they ought to move forward.

SPEAKER:  Do you think Prince George’s County, do you think it’s time for them now —

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I think Angela Alsobrooks has announced that June 1st they will be moving into stage one, and I think she made that decision based on all the best information in her county.  

And Montgomery, I don’t think he did.  I didn’t hear what his announcement was.  

I think — so I believe the mayor of Baltimore has taken some steps towards stage one.  I think Angela announced — Angela Alsobrooks, County Executive for PG — announced that Monday she will move into stage one.  

I believe Montgomery is now the only one who has not set a date, and they probably need to.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I mentioned a few moments ago in my remarks that there are some people that are not taking it as seriously as they should, and some people’s behavior that is reckless.  The vast majority of people are really paying attention.  They’re being thoughtful.  They are being careful.  But I was a little bit shocked to see some of the photographs or the video of people on the boardwalk in Ocean City with some of those crowds, which didn’t appear to be too safe to me.  And I think the mayor of Ocean City I believe is trying to take some measures.  They put signage and had police officers trying to create more distance, but I think they’re going to be taking some additional steps to try to be more careful.  

But you can’t control everyone’s individual behavior.  We can continue strongly encouraging them and they have to take more steps to be safe, but for the most part, I think people were generally pretty good.  

On the two days — one or two days does not make a trend.  That’s why we look at, out plan says 14 days.  The new CDC guidelines talk about 7-day averages.  That’s why I said we want to keep watching this into next week.  If those two days become a solid week of numbers going up, that’s a concern and we’ll slow things down.  If it’s just a blip and everything else continues to go down as it has consistently, then we’ll be ready to continue to take steps to move forward.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  There’s no question that the death rates are much higher for people that are older and that have underlying conditions.  I don’t know the exact stats today, but there’s no question that healthy, stronger, younger people, while they’re not immune, their death rates are much lower and that people that are older and/or have some of these underlying conditions are much more vulnerable.  So that’s why I mentioned earlier, as we open up things, those types of people and the people who live with them or are around them, if you live with somebody in your family that’s one of those categories, you’ve got to be particularly careful.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I think there are a whole number of underlying conditions that cause you to be more vulnerable, but no one that really stands out.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  So when people are violating the law or the orders, there are penalties.  And the guidelines, on the guidelines, the CDC guidelines and the things that we’re recommending, then people are not going to be punished for not following the recommended guidelines.  Some of the other folks with them may try to explain to them that they should be.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Yeah, I don’t know exactly what the question was, but that’s not completely accurate.  I didn’t listen to the testimony.  When I announced the acquisition — it’s 500,000, not 5,000 — I said — Luke is sitting here in the front row, asked the question.  I said this is one important part of a long-term testing strategy, that it was only part of it, that there were still nine components missing, that we needed to have swabs and transport tubes and reagents and lab capacity and all these things.  

That was a month ago.  And we’ve been in the process of acquiring all of those things.  We announced two weeks ago that we got swabs and the transport tubes from the federal government finally.  We created our own reagents.  And we’re ramping up lab capacity.  In fact, this week, the University of Maryland lab that we invested in is beginning to — they aren’t quite up to full capacity yet but — we haven’t even announced it yet, but they’re now processing and beginning to process those tests.  

But yeah, there are multiple components, as I announced, and we’ve been acquiring them all over the last month.

SPEAKER:  When can we see them?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  When can you see what?

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  So we just reached 10,000 tests a day.  300,000.  It was part of a long-term strategy.  You won’t actually see them because they’ll be in the lab, which we’re now opening, that we’re building.  They go to the lab facility.  There’s some misnomer, you keep saying when will we get them out to the county.  They’re never going to go to a county.

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  The lab has them now and are now processing them.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Yes, they are.  

(Question off mic).

SPEAKER:  Many people are still concerned that the state is moving too quickly, at the expense of public health.  What do we say to people who think that?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Well, I understand some people believe that we’re moving too quickly and some people believe we’re moving too slowly.  We have a plan, which was, you know, put together with a coronavirus recovery team made up of some of the smartest doctors and scientists we have in the state and in America.  And they believe that we’re going about it the right way.  There was a Washington Post poll last week that said 85% of Marylanders believe we’re going about this the right way.  

Some people, there’s certainly 5-10% who think we’re going too slow and 5-10% maybe think we’re going too fast, but most people think we’re going about right.  I understand there’s going to be criticism on both sides and we’re not going to make everybody happy, but we’re taking the best advice we can, we’re following all of those various guidelines, we’ve developed a plan, we’re following the plan, and we think we got it about right.  

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  It’s a great question.  So the comptroller did some revenue losses projections for the fiscal year that is ending July 1, and it’s not going to be as bad of a loss by July 1 as he had anticipated.  However, the long-term loss I believe is going to be higher than most people anticipate.  

We had all the governors, NGA call with the head of Moody’s Analytics a week or so ago with all the governors, who said that state governments should anticipate a 30% drop in revenues next year.  That’s pretty dramatic.  And I think if you look at the state of New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, democratic Governor of New Jersey last week cut his budget by $10 billion.  His budget is about the same size as ours.

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Yeah, I’m not sure why the folks are not here other than we’re limiting the number of people in the room.  If one of you guys wants to give up your seat, we’ll bring some of them in.  

And yes, the coronavirus recovery team has unanimously supported these moves.  

(Question off mic).

SPEAKER:  Can you update us on unemployment?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  This is — this problem of unemployment is the one that is extremely difficult because so many people are really suffering.  And it frustrates the heck out of me when you can’t immediately get people the money that they really need.  Not all of it is something we can fix though unfortunately, because this is a federal program.  It’s new.  And it’s been very complex and hard to implement.  

So you know, we created a website, one of the first in the country.  Now I think maybe 20 states have them.  Ours is the only one really functioning.  It wasn’t functioning very well the first 3-4 days.  Had like 9-hour waits and 180,000 people in line.  About 3 days later, that was fixed and only 1-minute waits.  

But as I mentioned a couple weeks ago, website isn’t the issue.  It’s a federal program.  They’ve changed guidelines at the federal level 12 times since the program came out a few weeks ago.  

We have been able to process I think 400,000 claims, hundreds of millions of dollars to help people.  Unfortunately the federal requirements require people to refile every week.  I’ve heard people say, I got it the first week but I didn’t get it the second week.  Well, federal law requires you go back on every week, which creates tremendous difficulties.  The website is handling most people, but there’s going to be a certain percentage of people, and out of 400,000 people got paid, 100 some thousand couldn’t handle it on the website; they had to talk to a live human being, not just somebody who answered the phone but a real professional who understands the complexities of the federal law and could help them.  Because otherwise they automatically get rejected.  If they don’t check all these things, they don’t get paid.  

So we hired, we have 250 extra people working in there, we have 450 extra phone lines, working around the clock, built the website.  It’s still not helping everybody.  And the sad reality is, there are a lot of people, I don’t know what the percentage is nationwide, but I think around 20% of people just don’t qualify so they’re not going to get paid.  Questions are, why haven’t you fixed unemployment!  Why haven’t we all got our checks!  Well, because federal law won’t allow us to pay them and because they couldn’t go on the site and get it done and have to talk to a person.  And people haven’t been able to resolve all these claims.  But a huge chunk of them — I don’t know what the percentage is — sadly will not get the checks ever because the federal government won’t pay them.

SPEAKER:  Last question, please.

SPEAKER:  I just want to clarify the stage one and stage two.  I understand the roadmap is a work in progress.  But a couple of the things you mentioned, the camps, childcare, restaurants are in stage two, or the medium risk category.  So I anticipate people saying, what about social gatherings, my gym class, my aerobics.  We haven’t officially entered stage two.  Can you give us a date?  Two weeks from now?

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  It’s a great question, Kate.  It’s a little confusing.  Some of the things we did partial.  Like we’re not opening up day camps and we’re not fully opening pools and we’re not fully opening restaurants.  But in stage one we were able to partially do some things.  Let’s let kids in small groups go outside and play.  Let’s go people in the pools as long as they’re safe.  Let’s let people dine outside but not inside.  Same thing many other states have done.

Stage two, I said we may be able to move forward into that as soon as next week, if we continue to see the positive numbers.  The fact that hospitalizations, as Brad pointed out, went up two days was a little bit of a, hey, let’s wait and see what that does.  If they keep going up, that’s a concern.  If they come back down and the trend is still down, we’re in a much better position.  

So there’s no exact date, but we didn’t say we will do it by this date because part of it is watching those trends and those numbers and running it by our coronavirus recovery team.  Are we safe to do this now.  Do you believe, now that we’ve done this and this and this, can we move on to this.  We have really smart guys, ladies and men, that tell us, advise us, and they say, we believe you can do these things now.  Or, hey, we have a rush on the hospitals, our numbers are changing, let’s put the brakes on a little bit.  

Thank you all very much.  

SPEAKER:  Thank you, Governor.