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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

Transcript: November 5 Press Conference

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Good evening.  Joining me here today are secretary Bobby Neall and Dr. Jinlene Chan of the Maryland Health Department.  Dr. David Marcozzi, who is the COVID-19 Incident Commander for the University of Maryland Medical System, and Colonel Jerry Jones, superintendent of the Maryland State Police.  We’re here today to provide you with an update on the COVID-19 pandemic.

Friday I joined the nation’s governors on a teleconference with members of the White House coronavirus task force to discuss the national COVID-19 response and recovery efforts as well as a vaccine development and distribution planning.  Earlier this week I convened another meeting of Maryland’s coronavirus task force, and earlier today, I received a thorough briefing from my unified command task force and held a meeting with the presiding officers of the Maryland General Assembly to discuss the state’s COVID-19 situation.

Following our fact-based and data-driven approach and in collaboration with our team of experts, we continue to closely monitor all public health metrics in Maryland, as well as the spiking numbers in states across the country.  As of this morning, Maryland has had 149,964 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including an additional 1,198 new cases over the past 24 hours, which is our highest one-day total since July 25th.  588 Marylanders are currently hospitalized.  A total of 17,435 Marylanders with COVID-19 have been hospitalized to date.  And 4,035 Marylanders have lost their life to this deadly virus.

There were more than 100,000 cases just yesterday in the U.S.  The nation’s largest one-day total ever.  And the virus has taken 233,777 American lives.  And killed over 1.2 million people around the world.  New shutdowns are taking effect all across the earth and in many states with numbers spiking out of control.  The indisputable fact is that we are now in the midst of a major surge of COVID-19 in America:  This was predicted by the experts at the height of the pandemic back in the spring, and it is something that Maryland has been preparing for over the past 8 months.  In many states across the country, hospitals are reaching their capacity, there is a troubling nationwide shortage of nurses, and in many places PPE is once again in short supply.

The good news is that Maryland is continuing to do better than most other states on our key health metrics and on our economic recovery.  Our positivity rate is lower than 42 other states.  Today our positivity rate statewide reached 4.12% and we have been under 5%, the benchmark set by the World Health Organization and the CDC for 133 consecutive days since June 25th.  Unfortunately our positivity rate has begun to trend in the wrong direction, and we now have seven jurisdictions in our state with positivity rates which have gone above that 5%, including Allegany, Dorchester, Garret, Harford, and Prince George’s.  Current hospitalizations are down nearly 66% since they peaked 189 days ago at 1711, and ICU levels are down 74% since their peak back in May.  But over the past 2 weeks we have seen a concerning increase in hospitalizations and in ICU levels.  The bulk of the cases are young people.  While a majority of our hospitalizations are still trending older.  We are concerned that we are seeing a slow but steady increase in the number of cases per 100,000.  And while we remain out of the red zone designated by the federal government for positivity rate, Maryland just entered the red zone for cases.  Our average cases per 100,000 has risen to 15, which is a 22% increase in just the past week.  Case rates are now above 10 cases per 100,000 in 18 of our 24 jurisdictions.  Harford County’s case rate average increased by 82% over the past week.  Baltimore County is up 41%.  And Carroll County has risen by 36%.  Our statewide case rate of 15 is, however, still much lower than 40 other states, including North Dakota, where the average is 171.9 cases.  South Dakota is at 131.2.  Wyoming is at 86.8 cases per 100,000.  And Wisconsin is at 82.4 cases per 100,000.

Our statewide metrics do not yet warrant taking drastic immediate actions; however, the upticks in some of our metrics here and the spiking numbers in other states do place us once again at a pivotal moment in the spike.  The good news is that Maryland has been preparing for this surge since the very beginning of the crisis.  We’re in a much better place than we were at the beginning of this pandemic.  We took some of the earliest and most aggressive actions in the nation to slow the spread and to flatten the curve.  We reopened closed hospital facilities and set up field hospitals to increase our surge capacity by 6,000 hospital beds.  We met and exceeded that goal, as well as our goals for ICU beds and ventilators.  We know a lot more about how to treat patients with the virus in order to keep them alive.  Lifesaving therapeutics such as remdesivir are more readily available.  Our hospitalization stays are generally shorter, less severe, and with better outcomes.  We have built a robust contact tracing operation, nearly 1300 tracers strong, to identify patterns and identify where and how the virus is living.  We’ve built up an infrastructure from scratch including a successful long-term testing strategy and a strategic stockpile of test kits and supplies.  In March we had the ability to conduct just 50 tests per day.  As of today, Maryland has conducted over 3.5 million COVID-19 tests.  We now have over 220 testing sites available across the state and have recently deployed new rapid 15-minute antigen tests to all our nursing homes across the state.

Our aggressive testing strategy has enabled us to detect more cases and to isolate outbreaks, and we are continuing to do more each and every day.  In response to a growing increase in sections in Allegany County, just today in consultation with county leaders and in partnership with county Health Department, we are standing up a brand-new testing site at the Allegany County Fairgrounds.  We have spent months ramping up our stockpile of PPE, distributing more than 78 million units to date, and we have built up a 60-day emergency supply of the most critical resources.  As we speak, nearly 40 Maryland companies are working to develop and manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, innovative therapeutics, including Novavax, which is adding another 400 jobs here in Maryland and was awarded $1.6 billion through operation warp speed to complete late-stage clinical development and establish large scale manufacturing in order to deliver 100 million vaccine doses as early as late this year or early next year.

And after months of advanced planning, the Maryland Department of Health submitted a plan to the CDC for ordering, distributing, and administering a vaccine just as soon as it becomes available.

With the shortage in nurses that we’re seeing in other states, today we are renewing our earlier efforts to increase the number of healthcare professionals in Maryland.  This spring I issued an executive order to fast track the licensing process to allow for out of state healthcare practitioners and those with an expired medical license to be able to assist and an executive order to provide more authority to designate emergency medical technicians and paramedics with a special provisional status in order to work in Maryland clinics and field hospitals.

We also activated the Maryland Medical Reserve Corps, trained medical professionals ready to assist in a public health emergency, and I directed the Department of Health to immediately institute a program to allow medical students, nursing students, and medical technician students from our universities and colleges and community colleges to be able to assist and be part of this medical relief effort.

Over 15,000 people signed up to be a part of this initiative from every jurisdiction around the state.  Today we are once again asking for more help.  To sign up, please go to MDresponds.health.maryland.gov.

We just doubled our investment with an additional $250 million to the Maryland Strong: Economic Recovery Initiative to provide even more help to our struggling families and small businesses, and we have asked counties to match these new state investments by utilizing their remaining CARES Act funding, which must be spent by year’s end.

I have continued to strongly urge our leaders in Washington on both sides of the aisle to provide funding for health and economic recovery efforts for our struggling families and state and local governments, and I’ve called on leaders and Congress on both sides of the aisle and our members of Maryland delegation to put the politic as side in order to reach a common-sense compromise and to finally get this done for the American people.

Thanks to the heroic efforts of so many state employees working around the clock and because of the vigilance and support of the people of Maryland, we are much better positioned than we were this spring, and Maryland is much better prepared than most states to be able to withstand this next surge.  However, I cannot stress strongly enough that we cannot afford to let our guard down.  The warning lights are starting to flash on the dashboard, and nobody should think for one minute that we are somehow immune to the spikes that we are seeing spread in surrounding states in the region and across the country.  The weeks and months ahead will be difficult, and our collective actions will determine whether we can continue safely on this road to recovery.  From day one of the pandemic, I have never hesitated to take the actions I believed were necessary to guide the state through these twin health and economic crises, and we will continue to do so.  But today I’m calling on the people of Maryland to once again do your part, right now, to help us keep this virus at bay.  Our ability to weather this storm effectively, to keep everyone safe and to keep Maryland open for business, will absolutely depend on the actions that each of us takes in the days and weeks ahead.  We should not and we cannot become complacent.  We’ve come too far together to ignore the warnings and to have out of control spikes like so much of the country.

Today we need every single Marylander to recommit to the actions that have helped us crush the curve the first time around.  The simple steps that can help us keep our loved ones and neighbors safe are statewide masking order, which will remain in full force and effect, requiring everyone to wear masks or face coverings in public spaces of all businesses across the state, and in outdoor public areas when it is not possible to maintain physical distancing.  Wearing masks continues to be the single best mitigation strategy we have to fight this virus.  It is the best way to keep you and your family members safe, keep people out of the hospital, save lives, and to keep Maryland open for business.  I mean, it’s that simple.  It’s not that hard.  Just wear the damn mask.

We’re concerned about increasing recent reports of individuals and businesses becoming more lax and not following the law.  We’re also concerned with the lack of compliance enforcement by our local partners.  I also want to say this as strongly as I can:  Local leaders, county Health Departments, county liquor boards, and, when necessary, local law enforcement agencies must immediately step up their efforts to the levels they were back in the spring to ensure that all businesses and their individual jurisdictions are in compliance with all public health regulations.

Maryland statute gives counties the power to implement more restrictive policies based on the conditions in their individual jurisdictions.  Counties with high positivity and case rates will have my full support as they continue to make some difficult decisions at the county level.  But we encourage people who can telework to do so, and employers should make every effort to give employees the opportunity to telework.  We remind you to always avoid crowds, to continue practicing physical distancing, and to frequently wash your hands.

Today we are renewing our travel advisory, warning Marylanders to avoid traveling to states that are experiencing spike virus numbers.  That includes any travel to or from states with positive rates of 10% or higher.  We strongly advise you to cancel or postpone any travel to those areas until positivity rates decline.  If you do travel to one of these locations, you should immediately be tested for COVID-19 and should self-quarantine while awaiting the results.

With the holidays approaching and so many Marylanders making plans to spend time with families and friends, it is more important than ever for all of us to remain cautious and vigilant.  I know from personal experience that there’s a false sense of security when we spend time with our family or friends, especially at home where we feel safe.  We tend to let our guard down.  But our contact tracing operation continues to show that family gatherings, social gatherings, are the most likely source of transmission.  The number one activity of those who have become infected that shows up on our contact tracing continues to be family gatherings, followed by house parties.  56% of all the interviewed cases that have contracted the virus in the past 2 weeks said they had traveled outside of Maryland, they worked outside the home, attended a gathering with at least 10 people, or visited a high-risk location.  We shouldn’t lose sight of the obligation that we have to protect the health of the most vulnerable among us, especially grandparents, older relatives, and those with underlying conditions.  We want all Marylanders to enjoy the holiday season with their loved ones, but we want you to do so as safely as possible.

I understand that there is a very real COVID fatigue, and it’s extremely frustrating to all of us that things are still not back to normal.  We had all hoped that this crisis would be behind us by now, but the simple fact is, it is not.  The straight truth is that this virus will be with us well into next year, and in fact, our worst time may be over the next couple of months.  This very long, very difficult time has taken an unimaginable toll on our families, our businesses and communities, and on each and every single one of us.  But I want the people of Maryland to know that we will get through this together, and that we will come out of this stronger and better than ever before.  I remain committed to telling it to you straight and to keeping the people of Maryland informed with the facts.  We’re going to continue to respond quickly and decisively to any changes in the situation as it develops.  And we are going to continue to attack this virus with every tool at our disposal.  And the most effective tool we have is each and every one of you, the people of Maryland.

With that, this time I want to turn the podium over to Dr. David Marcozzi, who, as I said, is the COVID-19 Incident Commander for the University of Maryland Medical System and he serves on our coronavirus task force.

Doctor?

DAVID MARCOZZI:  Governor, thanks.

Good afternoon.  Governor Hogan, thank you for your leadership through this crisis and the opportunity to speak today around the efforts to keep Marylanders healthy and our state open for business.  In looking at the state’s public health data, it is obvious that Marylanders have fought back against this virus.  As a result, we were able to take measured steps to reopen the state.  The reality, though, is that we are entering a period of high risk these next few months, as the virus spreads more easily when we gather indoors together.  In fact, the Maryland data is concerning as there has been a noticeable increase in our state’s positivity rate and the number of COVID-19 hospitalizations, which means more of us have this virus, more of us are spreading this virus, and more of us are becoming sick as a result of this virus.  Hospitals staffed with nurses, respiratory therapists, doctors, and environmental services professionals and social workers are working hard across the state to continue to provide acute care in their hospitals to treat not only routine medical and surgical conditions, but also the increasing numbers of COVID-19 patients.  They are all heroes, and we can help them.  Outside the hospital, know that it is safe to go to your doctor’s office for routine care and preventive screenings.  In fact, many offices are now even offering that care through telehealth or by phone call.  Please get your prescriptions filled to keep yourself healthy so that any chronic conditions you might have don’t worsen.

I think we also need to recognize that this virus doesn’t just affect us physically.  It affects us mentally.  This has hit me personally, as I’ve lost a friend to suicide from this pandemic.  Let’s make sure we stay connected.  Let’s make sure we reach out.  Let’s make sure we support each other and talk to a professional if helpful.  We need to make the right decisions to continue to prevent the spread of this virus today and for the next few months, or we could lose the positive impact we have all worked so hard to achieve.  The upcoming holidays will be especially challenging time.  Consistent with CDC guidance, please weigh these factors when considering planning any in-person gathering:  The number of people.  The smaller the better.  The locations attendees are traveling from.  Don’t include vulnerable individuals.  Ask and be aware of the behaviors before and during this event so that you can keep them and yourselves safe.  It is a predictable surprise.  If we don’t protect ourselves and each other, we will face significant health and economic challenges these next few months.  I’m tired of COVID-19.  I think we’re all tired of COVID-19.  But the virus isn’t tired.  It is waiting.  That is our reality.  And these next few months will require us to double our efforts and stay the course.  In the end, what does that mean?  Wear a mask over your mouth and nose.  Don’t pull it down to speak.  Only touch the sides of your mask, not the front when you need to adjust it.  Keep yourself physically distant from each other.  Keep hands and high touch areas clean.  Get a flu shot, as the flu is preventable.  Telework if you can.  Get the COVID-19 vaccine once it is available.  This may get worse before it gets better, and we are all in this together.  Don’t regret a decision today that negatively impacts someone you love tomorrow.

Thank you.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Thank you, doctor.

I’ll be happy to take a few questions.

(Question off mic).

I’m not sure if it’s just that talk.  There’s been a lot of talk for many months, people not taking it seriously.  I heard people say it would magically disappear after the election.  We were told it would take 14 days to flatten the curve.  We were told it would all soon disappear.  We were told it would be gone by Easter.  And then by July.

The fact is, we’re still in this crisis.  We’re probably at a worse point than we’ve ever been and it’s growing across the country and across the world again.

There’s a lot of disinformation and misinformation and people who aren’t taking it seriously.

I think what we’re seeing here in Maryland, we took it more serious than most people.  In recent poll, 89% of people were following the advice and steps we take.  That’s almost better than any state in the country.  People were listening and doing what they needed to do.  I think what happened is people just got tired of doing it and they felt comfortable because our numbers were so good and we were doing so well, like it’s not that big of a deal.  I talked to my fellow governors calling me talking about patience and respect and increasing deaths and running out of hospital beds and not having nursing staff.  It becomes real to you when you hear that.  As we see our numbers go up, we don’t want to be one of those states.  We’ve all said over and over again, the simple things that we’ve all done have worked really well.  We just have to get back to it and take it seriously.

(Question off mic) 

You just jumped right in there, Bill.

It really is looking at all of the metrics.  Those are just three or four of the metrics.  We’re looking at lots of data points.  Really smart folks every day in our department of health, our local health officers, all the people on our coronavirus recovery team, we’re watching every day.  And it’s really a combination of all of that.  And some of it is not just an exact number or if this happens or that happens but it’s a judgment call based on the best advice from the smartest people we could find about what’s happening.  So these are a couple of blinking lights that we don’t like.  We have some things different compared to other places.  Most concerning is hospitalizations.  We don’t want our hospitals overflow again.

(Question off mic).

Well, you know, certain counties, we all still feel and I think Dr. Chan today, Dr. Salmon I think has a meeting and discussion with local counties and Health Departments and schools talking about continuing guidance and having discussions with them.  The duly elected school boards make those decisions based on their best judgment on the ground and in their jurisdictions.

You know, nobody was really pushing to fill the schools, but there are some special populations that just can’t do the distance learning, and they really were trying to get the kids who needed it most in small numbers safely back in the schools.  And I think many of the school systems continue to do that.  But nobody is looking to fill the schools back up with the viruses spread around as it is.

(Question off mic).

First of all, I want to — you know, I know everybody is anxious to get to a final result and I’m hopeful that we’re getting closer to that every moment.

I think personally I’m very pleased with the way the election was conducted here in Maryland.  Our state and local election boards, with help from the Department of Health and others, conducted a really good election, with a few glitches but much better than a lot of people were expecting.  People turned out in great numbers to exercise their votes here in Maryland.  And everything went pretty smoothly and I’m very pleased with that.

I think, you know, there are states across the country that are also working very hard, and some of them taking a while to count the number of mail-in ballots.  We started early.  Some people were not allowed to start counting until the polls closed, which is part of the problem.  But I haven’t seen any evidence whatsoever of any widespread fraud anywhere.  I’m sure there will be isolated case here and there of something went wrong with small numbers, but I think the great thing about our country is everybody gets the chance to vote.  We count the votes.  Then we all live with the results and try to get behind the Commander in Chief.  I think we’re going to get to that point.  Everybody just has to be patient.  Our system has worked pretty well for a couple of hundred of years and I’m hopeful it will continue to do so.

SPEAKER:  Thank you.

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Yeah, so we are watching it every single day and we’ll be making decisions as things develop, as we see fit.  There is a little bit of a tail.  Deaths lag behind hospitalizations and hospitalizations lag behind the infections.  And we’re trying to find out where all those infections are to stop it from spreading.  And as I said, all the steps we’ve taken to put us in a position to handle it.  But we’re going to make decisions as we deem necessary and we’re going to keep telling you what the facts are and what our decisions are going to be.

(Question off mic).

Just like everybody else, everybody was really good at the beginning and tried hard, and then we sort of let our guard down.  That’s all I think it really is, both with respect to individuals, with respect to some business owners, and with respect to the people who are trying to keep things enforced.  So we had great cooperation with the local governments at the beginning when we said almost the same thing about, you guys have the local liquor board, the local Health Department, you’re the boots on the ground.  We heard anecdotally lots of stories about people no longer following the rules, stop wearing masks, going over capacity restrictions, and just kind of thinking everything is back to normal.  And the counties have got to be able to step it up, and I think they’re all having the same kinds of concerns about what’s happening and I’m sure that they will.  I know we have the superintendent here with us, and he’ll be reaching out to local law enforcement to discuss these things.  But it’s really the Health Departments.

With the bars and restaurants, we want to make sure the liquor boards and Health Departments are enforcing the current regulations.

I think right now enforcing the existing laws that people aren’t following is more important than adding new ones.

(Question off mic).

More of our infections are with young people.  Maybe I didn’t say it quite right.  We’re still seeing older people in the hospital and getting sick enough.  There are young people in, but the majority of the people who have to be hospitalized and the majority of deaths are still older people, but more of our infections are young people.

(Question off mic).

  Like I said earlier, we’ve always supported — first of all, people think I granted them the authority.  Really state law grants them the authority to be more restrictive.  They can’t ignore state law or our regulations, but they can add additional regulations.  That’s their right as elected leaders in their jurisdictions.

Look, we’re encouraging people to help our people get safely back to work and school, and we would still like to do those things and we don’t want to shut things down.  But we understand that if they feel that they’ve got a particular situation that they’re concerned about in their county, they’re the best ones to see it on the ground and make their own decisions.  And we’re going to back them up and provide whatever assistance and help we can.  Like for example, Allegany County was one of the ones that didn’t want any restrictions, didn’t want to wear masks, and they were like, don’t lock us down.  Now they’re I think needing to take actions about actions they might want to take in Allegany County and are reaching out to us for help setting up a testing station which in a matter of hours because we heard from them, we go, we’re there to back you up because we want to get the virus under control in their county.

SPEAKER:  Last question.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  That was the last question.

Do you have a question?

Thank you guys very much.