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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

Transcript: December 15 Press Conference

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Good afternoon.  Joining me today are Major General Timothy Gowen, Deputy Secretary for public health services Dr. Jinlene Chan, and Dr. David Marcozzi, who is our senior medical adviser on COVID-19, and the COVID-19 Incident Commander for the University of Maryland Medical System.

Before we begin, I know that many Marylanders are closely watching the weather reports.  We have activated a government-wide response in preparation for the potential of heavy snow fall and what looks like it could be the first major winter weather event of the season.  According to the National Weather Service, travel may be very difficult if not impossible in the region.  State Highway Administration began pretreating roads over the weekend.  Maryland State Police is ready to implement emergency plans and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency is coordinating closely with federal and local partners, and we just encourage Marylanders to stay tuned to your local forecast and to heed guidance from state and local authorities.  Most importantly, we’re simply urging Marylanders to be prepared and to use common sense.

Sadly, as of today, COVID-19 has taken the lives of more than 5,000 Marylanders and more than 300,000 Americans.  The one of many we have lost is the father of Daisy Solaris, a respiratory therapist at the University of Maryland Medical Center who came back from dealing with her father’s tragic death to continue to treat COVID patients.  Daisy is the very definition of a healthcare hero.  And yesterday after nine months and nine days after our first cases, she was one of the first Marylanders to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.  I had the opportunity to speak with Daisy and some of her coworkers yesterday to thank them for what they’ve been doing each and every day and thank them for being the first.  They’re our pioneers, the very first to receive our vaccines here in the state.

After all that we’ve been through in 2020, yesterday truly was a day of hope.  While we still have several months of difficult struggles ahead of us, this is a turning point and a light at the end of a very long tunnel and the beginning of the end of this deadly pandemic.

As we laid out in our statewide vaccination plan, our earliest vaccinations will be focused on our front-line healthcare workers, the residents and staff of our nursing homes, and other long-term care facilities, as well as first responders and our most vulnerable populations.  Over the course of the next week, as part of the initial allocation of 155,000 doses, every single hospital and every region of our state will begin to receive their first COVID-19 vaccines.  As more vaccines begin to arrive from the federal government, our distribution plans will continue accelerating as we strive to reach more and more of our citizens.  I want to ask Marylanders for their patience as we work hard to get the entire state eventually vaccinated.

To assist in the efficient distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, today I am reactivating the Maryland National Guard in order to provide necessary logistical support to help the state health officials.  During this initial distribution phase, the Guard will be providing logistical support.  Special field teams will be deployed to assist state health officials with vaccination planning and operations, as well as providing logistical support to points of distribution across the state.

As more vaccines become available to us, the Guard will then be ramping up to provide additional coordination and logistical support and to help us with the setup of mobile vaccination clinics.  The Guard will also augment our rapid response teams to address outbreaks at nursing homes and other long-term care facilities.

Throughout the crisis, the men and women of the Maryland National Guard have stepped up to provide critical support in a wide range of areas, including nursing home strike teams, building hospital surge capacity, transporting and transferring tests and PPE and critical supplies from the Strategic National Stockpile, and even helping with the distribution of school lunches.  We’re very fortunate to have these elite citizen soldiers and airmen to call upon, and once again, we’re going to be utilizing them as we launch what will be the largest and most important vaccination campaign in the history of our state and our nation.

We are also ramping up an aggressive public outreach effort, briefing our congressional delegation, the leaders of the General Assembly, county leaders, faith-based leaders, and community stakeholders.  And soon we will be launching statewide public service announcements regarding the safety and importance of these COVID vaccinations.  It will take many weeks to fully ramp up the production and distribution of vaccines and we still have some tough times to go through, but these vaccines really do offer us real hope that we are approaching the final phase of this global pandemic.

As of today, Maryland has had 239,362 confirmed cases of COVID-19.  We have now experienced 42 straight days with more than 1,000 cases.  Our current 7-day statewide positivity rate is 7.53 percent, and our cases per 100,000 is at 46.4, which is the ninth low nest America.

A total of 23,711 COVID parents have been hospitalized in Maryland, including 1,799 currently hospitalized as of today, which is our highest total ever.  That number includes 411 COVID patients currently in intensive care.

88 percent of staff acute and ICU beds are currently occupied statewide.  13 Maryland hospitals have both acute and ICU bed capacity at or above 90 percent.  146 patients are currently in surge beds at the alternate care sites which we added back in the spring.

In addition, we are closely monitoring active cases at 189 of our nursing homes and at 142 of our assisted living facilities.  Vaccinations will be distributed to all 227 nursing homes in the next 2 weeks.

As of today, the state of Maryland has conducted 5.1 million COVID-19 tests.  The backbone of Maryland’s long-term testing strategy have been the LabGenomics tests which we acquired from South Korea as part of operation enduring friendship.  And in spite of numerous false partisan attacks, a coordinated disinformation campaign, we are pleased to report that as of today the state of Maryland has successfully utilized every single one of these 500,000 tests.  We used them every single day at our community-based testing sites as well as for our nursing homes, congregate care settings, clusters, outbreaks, and hotspots all across the state.  And I’m proud to announce today that as a result of this tremendous success, a partnership between the Korean company, LabGenomics and the Maryland-based CIAN Diagnostics in Frederick, has resulted in a new agreement for the acquisition of 1 million more Korean tests.

As a result, these LabGenomic tests and these two great companies will be continuing to save lives and to make a real difference on the front lines here in our state.

We want to again thank the republic of Korea and LabGenomics for coming to our aid when we desperately needed it back in the darkest days of the crisis.  The people of Maryland owe a profound debt of gratitude to them and to the people of South Korea.

With vaccine distribution now beginning in our state, we have finally reached a turning point, and we are able to see the sunrising on the horizon, even if that horizon may still seem a little bit distant right now.  I want to assure the people of Maryland that we will get through this together, and that every single day as we vaccinate more and more people and as we continue to fight this virus with everything we’ve got, it will bring us much closer to that victory over this deadly virus.

With that, at this time I’m going to turn it over to Dr. Chan to provide you with some more details and to update you on the latest developments regarding vaccination distribution plan.

JINLENE CHAN:  Thank you, Governor.

I’m pleased to be with you here today to provide an update on the status of the vaccination implementation here in Maryland.  With the FDA approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine last Friday, distribution of vaccines have begun across the country and here in Maryland as well.  As the Governor said, this is a momentous time for all of us in the course of this pandemic as we continue all of our response efforts around testing, contact tracing, hospital surge.  We know there is that light at the end of the tunnel.

We also know that having a safe and effective vaccine will be this important tool to prevent further disease and hospitalizations, especially among our most vulnerable.  As the Governor alluded to, yesterday among the first to be vaccinated at the University of Maryland was a nurse, Shawn Hendricks, the nursing director of cardiac services at the University of Maryland Medical Center, and she has been there for over 20 years starting as a nursing student.  She noted that African-Americans are more likely to contract the virus and she was among the first employees to be vaccinated.

I wanted to provide a situational update.  As we’ve discussed, initial shipments of vaccine have begun to arrive.  Over the course of the next 2 weeks, all hospitals will have vaccines to begin vaccination of their critical front line staff.

Also within the next 2 weeks, nursing homes will have their vaccination programs begin in partnership with CVS and Walgreens.

I want to emphasize that in these early stages, as we are beginning the implementation of our vaccination program, there will be limited doses that we have available to Maryland.  However, with this initial allocation of 155,000 doses of both the Pfizer and the Moderna vaccine, this will be dedicated and allocated to healthcare workers in hospitals and nursing homes.

While our projected allocation is up to 300,000 doses by the end of this month, the information from federal partners can change, and actually even on a daily basis, so that the availability and the actual amount of doses that we have to be able to order may change from week to week.

But with this initial allocation that’s coming to Maryland, our phase 1A, the primary focus will be on healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes as well as first responders, as is recommended by our federal partners at the CDC.  While the focus right now is on those hospitals and nursing homes, as for allocated more vaccines in the coming weeks, we will be able to expand further into the 1A population and make it available for other healthcare workers in non-hospital or non-nursing home settings.  We anticipate with ongoing allocations to the state, we will be able to expand further to include people in high-risk categories, those who are at risk of complications from COVID-19 disease in phase 1B.

Phase 2 is when we begin to open up availability and access to vaccine for our critical essential workers.  Our draft plan puts educators and childcare providers within that phase.

There are other vaccines right now in the late stages of clinical trials, and we anticipate again in the coming weeks and months that those vaccines will also be approved.  That will also increase availability of vaccine to Marylanders.  But for the moment, I wanted to review again what we know about the Pfizer vaccine that was just approved and what we also know about the Moderna vaccine that’s being considered this week.

So again, as we talked a little bit about last week, the FDA took the Pfizer data and reviewed it and did their own analysis.  And the analysis that they did independently of the Pfizer manufacturer scientists continued to show that there’s 95 percent efficacy of the vaccine to prevent COVID disease among people who receive the vaccine.  So while they applied for the Emergency Use Authorization on November 20th and it was approved just, as I said, this past Friday.

So one of the important things with Moderna is that they are also showing high efficacy of 94 percent in terms of preventing COVID disease among people who received the vaccine.  Right now the FDA scientists have been doing their own independent analysis of the Moderna vaccine, and that data was released today.  Thursday the FDA advisory committee will be meeting to review this data analysis and make a recommendation to the FDA.

Assuming that their review continues to corroborate the information that has been shared with us to date, we anticipate that as soon as Friday the FDA will issue an emergency-use authorization for the Moderna vaccine as well, with distribution the following week.

In terms of safety and efficacy, that really is our first and foremost priority with this vaccine.  So I want to talk a little bit about the safety and efficacy of the Pfizer vaccine in particular.  So this has been approved for individuals 16 years of age and older.  Some of the trials have included individuals down to the age of 16.  Trials are either underway or will be starting for children under 16 as well as pregnant women.

Based on what we have learned from the trials, people who receive the vaccine should expect to experience some soreness at the site of injection, particularly in the 1-2 days following vaccination.  And some people also had redness and swelling at the site of injection.

Many people have also experienced other mild to moderate symptoms, most commonly fatigue, tiredness, headache.  Some people had a low-grade fever after the vaccine.  These resolve in 1-2 days.  It’s also important to note that these symptoms were a little bit more common among people who were younger, under 55, compared to people who were a little bit older than 55, and a little bit more common after the second dose.

The important thing to note is that the vaccine is working and the person’s immune system is responding to the vaccine, which is what is causing some of these mild to moderate symptoms.

So I want to focus I little bit more on the work that we’re doing now in phase 1A.  We talked about the initial allocation going to healthcare workers, particularly in hospitals, and as we have put in those orders and continue to do so with this first allocation, those vaccines will be sent directly to the hospital facilities.  And I will emphasize again that every Maryland facility in every Maryland hospital will get an allocation out of the initial 155,000 doses that the federal government has allocated for our state.

At long-term care facilities, we have signed up every nursing home in the state for our federal pharmacy partnership program, which engages both CVS and Walgreens in the state to set up COVID-19 vaccine clinics at the site of the nursing home for both the residents and staff.  We’ve activated the program on December 8, so about a week ago, and a portion of our allocation is being held in reserve to be delivered to CVS and Walgreen who are, as we speak, scheduling clinics and appointments for each of the nursing homes.

First responders are another critical group within phase 1A, and Maryland is setting aside doses from initial allocations for local Health Departments to vaccinate first responders, our EMS, firefighters, and law enforcement, who may be started within the next couple of weeks.

In the coming weeks as well, we know that information is important for our public, for the people that we serve, and so we want to be transparent.  We will be standing up a new public COVID vaccine dashboard that will show how many vaccines have been administered by county, by age, race, and other important demographic information.  What you see on this slide is just a mockup of what the page will look like as we have actual real data come in and we put that up.  That will be released in the coming weeks.

Public outreach, as the Governor has indicated, has been really critical and will continue to be an important component of the work that we are doing.  We have been briefing our leadership and important legislative stakeholders across the state.  Tomorrow, for example, we will be presenting to the joint COVID legislative work group, but in addition, we’ve been working actively with the Governor’s office, the Health Department office of minority health and health disparities to engage state and local agencies, our community organizations, and other groups to develop and roll out a multilingual education campaign in the coming weeks.  That engagement, that coordination and discussion is important as we go around the state talking to leaders, talking to community organizations.  It is important that we listen and that we answer questions.  And we will continue in that effort.

So I wanted to end by just addressing a couple of the common questions that we’ve been receiving about the Pfizer vaccine as well as about our overall vaccine effort.  So one question that has come up is whether or not people should be worried about getting the Pfizer vaccine if they have severe allergies.  And the CDC is recommending that only people who have an anaphylactic reaction should not get that.  Other people with severe allergies may still be able to get the Pfizer vaccine but they should discuss it with their healthcare provider and weigh the risks and benefits of getting it before they take it.  And there should be an observation period after they receive the vaccine.  But for the most part, most people should be able to receive the vaccine without any risk of a severe reaction.

One question is about how long phase 1A will last.  A lot of this is predicated on how much vaccine we will actually get in the state over the course of the next few weeks and even months.  Our goal and our focus is really to push it out as quickly as we get it, and so that we can expand as quickly as we can into phase 1B, phase 2, and beyond.

And last, when will our COVID metrics reflect the impact of vaccinations.  That is a tough question to answer because there are a number of variables that impact our COVID metrics.  But it may take still some time as we get more and more people vaccinated for it to really have an impact on our metrics themselves.  Remember that both of these new vaccines require two doses.  So for even a specific individual to become immune after vaccination may be 6 weeks.  So that’s important time frame to keep in mind.

So after vaccination, I would reemphasize that people, even healthcare workers, should continue to wear masks, wear appropriate PPE, practice social distancing, and refrain from going to large group gatherings if possible.

In closing, I want to emphasize that we are just at the beginning of our vaccine implementation plan, and we will be rolling out more and more vaccine to our entire state as the weeks go by.

It is also important that people get their information from credible sources.  There is already misinformation and false rumors about the vaccine circulating, so don’t be misled.  Get the facts from the CDC, or the Maryland Department of Health web page at covidlink.maryland.gov for more information.

At this time I would like to turn it over to Dr. David Marcozzi, for his remarks.

DAVID MARCOZZI:  Thank you, Governor Hogan, good to see you, sir.

Good afternoon and happy holidays.  For too long now COVID-19 has had the upper hand.  Severely and negatively impacting both our lives and our livelihoods.  This week is different, though.  There is cause for optimism and hope.  Maryland is beginning the administration of a safe and effective vaccine.

That said, things will get more difficult before they get easier.  I would be remiss if I did not mention the toll that COVID-19 has taken on all of us and our need to keep fighting back.  Just yesterday as the Governor made mention, the U.S. has realized the tragic milestone since the start of this pandemic with 300,000 individuals dying as a result of COVID-19, including 5,000 of our fellow Marylanders.  Lost at times is the fact that those numbers that we follow so closely represent grandfathers and grandmothers, mothers and daughters, fathers, coworkers, and children who won’t be here this holiday season due to this virus.

For this reason, the facts remain:  Wearing masks, physically distancing, and washing hands needs to remain our normal.  And family gatherings over the holidays should only be limited to household contacts.

We are taking a significant stride forward for getting back to our normal state as vaccination efforts begin.  That said, there may be questions about the vaccine.  I would encourage us all to take time and read published scientific information or listen to experts or doctors who can help you make informed decisions.  Notice I did not say social media posts.  As much as I value social media for providing us a mechanism to stay connected during this challenging time, there are concerns from public health experts that a significant amount of misinformation is posted there, and it is difficult for us to tell fact from fiction.  Simply stated:  Online misinformation is a threat to our health.  It hinders our ability to end COVID-19 and reopen our economy.  Please take time to get informed from reliable sources.  Ask experts and make your own decision about receiving the vaccine.

Personally I firmly believe in the science and the process that supports the development of the COVID-19 vaccines.  I will continually review the available information and the recommendations by both the FDA and the CDC and our Department of Health.  Weighing the benefits of a vaccine against the risks of becoming ill from COVID-19, I look forward to being vaccinated.

Just like we do at a grocery store when we read the list of ingredients on an item, I wanted to list the components of the Pfizer vaccine that received Emergency Use Authorization from the FDA.  There are four components, one of which is the active component, mRNA.  This mRNA helps our cells make the spike protein of the coronavirus.  Only the spike protein, which is what your body reacts to which leaves you immunized, ready to fight the real virus if you are exposed.

The other ingredients are fats, salts, and sugar.  The fats also called lipids are basically tiny greasy spheres that protect the mRNA.  There are four salts, one of them table salt, which buffer the acidity of the vaccine.  Lastly, the vaccine contains plain old sugar, also called sucrose.  The vaccines require freezing, and the sucrose prevents the lipid spheres from sticking together when frozen.

That’s it.  Four components.

A few other key facts about this vaccine.  It will protect you from getting COVID-19.  There is no way to get COVID-19 from this vaccine.  You’ll need two doses about 21 day as part to ensure you are fully protected.  Right now the CDC recommends the vaccine be administered to healthcare personnel, first responders, and residents of long-term care facilities, but soon there will be enough vaccine to vaccinate us all.

Per the CDC, there are no contraindications for women of childbearing age, breastfeeding, or pregnancy.  One important note is that the vaccine is currently not recommended for children under the age of 16.  Those and other studies, as Dr. Chan mentioned, are ongoing right now.

Yes, there are some mild side effects just like you would get from any vaccination, including pain and mild swelling in the arm where you got the shot.  You may experience tiredness, headache, mild fevers.  On rare occasions some individuals may have had allergic reactions, but plans are in place to make sure those individuals are treated if that occurs.

I mentioned before that we need to get our second wind in this fight as the next few months will be more challenging.  Yes, we all need to keep washing our hands, wearing masks, and physically distancing, particularly over the holidays.  But help is coming:  A safe and effective vaccine.  When it is my time, I look forward to receiving it.  We’re in the home stretch.  Now more than ever let’s take care of ourselves and each other.

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  With that, we would be happy to take a few questions.

(Question off mic).

I’m going to do it as soon as it becomes available to me, but I’m not going to jump the line in front of the people that are above me, which is those front-line healthcare workers, the folks in the nursing homes.  Those are the ones that deserve it and need it first.  But as soon as I become eligible, I will be doing it publicly.  I’m sure so will the Lieutenant Governor and First Lady and any of us that can help convince others that it’s going to be safe and important.

(Question off mic).

Well, we do talk to an awful lot of doctors and I’m sure some of them overlap.  But we’ve been told from the beginning, nothing is completely safe, but that outdoor dining is far more safe than indoor dining, which is why we’ve taken all the actions that we’ve taken.  But again, they have the ability to make their own decisions.  I don’t second guess what they do and they shouldn’t second guess what we’re doing.

(Question off mic).

Just to clarify, it’s 88 percent of the staffed beds.  So we do have some beds but they don’t do any good if you don’t have the medical personnel to work them, so it’s 88 percent of the staffed capacity.  And we have metrics that maybe Dr. Chan can address.  When we reach 8,000 hospitalizations, then it automatically triggers actions by the hospital.  We have not reached that point yet.  We had a pretty bad day today with an increase, but for the past 3-4 days before that, we were relatively stable and kind of up and down, so we are afraid that we will reach those points but we are not there yet.

(Question off mic).

Yes.  We have been in touch with Mayor Bowser and her team, and we have agreed to provide some vaccinations from Maryland to the District specifically for those front-line healthcare workers that work in the District that live in the state of Maryland.  And I have a meeting with Mayor Bowser and Governor Northam to talk about that and a regional approach.

(Question off mic).

Well, of course it’s a separate branch of government.  We have had numerous discussions.  I’ve sat down with the speaker.  They randomize our Health Department folks, and I think got a lot of input from people that provided good advice.

Look, none of us know, including the legislature, we don’t know how bad it’s going to get or what steps we’ll have to take next year during January or February of the legislative session.  But right now I think they have a plan with a lot of flexibility.  Most of their deliberations and committee meetings are all going to be done virtually.  I think only limited time on the floor with smaller groups of people.  The House will not be all together at one time.  We’ll have to see how to goes.  It’s very likely that they may not be able to continue the way they are currently, just like during the last session when they had to shut down altogether.

(Question off mic).

We have already done that, and Dr. Chan addressed that earlier.  The school staff, educators and school staff, are in a priority group that are in the second phase.  That’s already an approved plan.

(Question off mic).

JINLENE CHAN:  So we estimate that there’s roughly 800 to 850,000 people in phase 1.  And so starting with the front-line healthcare workers, and again, with hospitals, that’s really where we’re focusing first.  The healthcare workers of course in nursing homes, assisted livings, primary care, that’s really where 1A will encompass.  But to be able to move beyond phase 1, it will take close to probably a million doses.

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  I think we’re technically us and our staffs are considered essential workers but we’re not those front-line healthcare workers.  We’re not certainly in 1A.  I think technically we fall into 1B, but you know, we’re going to take it when the experts tell us we should and when they tell us it’s fair and it’s the right time.

(Question off mic).

Well, that’s a question for you to ask all those leaders in Washington, Tom.  But I think we’re — I was pretty clear about my frustration that more of my fellow republican leaders were not speaking out.  I can’t imagine I could be more strong as I have been for more than a month now.  But I thought it was a positive step today that Senate leader Mitch McConnell did come out and say what he said, and I would imagine you’re going to see more and more people in the days ahead.  It’s already starting to snowball and sometimes it’s difficult for people to be the first ones out there.  I think I was the first or one of the first, but many more people are feeling the comfort of a larger group.  I think some of them were just afraid.  They were intimidated.  They didn’t want to come out and say anything because they would be tweeted about and attacked, as a couple of my republican colleagues who I have respect for, Doug Ducey in Arizona and Brian Kemp in Georgia, who simply did the right thing by saying this is what the law requires us to do, even though they campaigned very hard for the President, and they were both attacked.  So I think a lot of republicans were afraid of having that happen to them.

(Question off mic).

This was an announcement between the two companies.  The state of Maryland is not involved in it.  We simply made the initial connection with the republic of Korea and this company LabGenomics.  They were tremendous for us.  We’ve now utilized them all.  But this is two private companies, an American company headquartered here in Maryland and a top Korean company who announced this earlier this morning.  I don’t really know the details of it.  But the state is not paying for them, and we will be getting the access to some of these, I would imagine, and still continuing to utilize the lab but we didn’t purchase the tests.

(Question off mic).

I’m cautiously optimistic.  I’m hopeful.  Like we are on the vaccines.  It’s a hopeful moment.  I think Mitch McConnell today said that he didn’t want to leave town for their holiday break until they reached some kind of agreement.  That’s the first time I think he’s said something like that.  I’ve been in constant communication with leaders on both sides of the aisle.  Tonight I’m becoming the chairman of No Labels, who founded the problem solvers’ caucus in the House and the Senate, equal numbers of democrats and republicans who put forward this bill.  I have a Zoom tonight at 8:00 with thousands of leaders, along with most of those from the Senate and the House.  I hate to say it’s a done deal because I have been pushing for this since April as chair of the NGA, but I think we’re closer than we’ve ever been.  If ever there was a time to get something done, if ever there was a time for republicans and democrats to come together, to reach some kind of a compromise, it’s right now when the country desperately needs it.

SPEAKER:  Last question.

(Question off mic).

GOVERNOR HOGAN:  Well, a number of them have been helping with logistics but we officially are activating the Guard today and they’ll be calling up members as we need them.

Thank you, guys.