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The Office of GOVERNOR LARRY HOGAN

Transcript: April 1 Press Conference

GOVERNOR HOGAN: Good afternoon, joining me today from the Maryland Department of Health are Secretary Dennis Schrader and Deputy Secretary for Public Health, Dr. Jinlene Chan. As of this week, 75 percent of all Marylanders over the age of 65 have been vaccinated. On Tuesday we went into phase 2B of our COVID-19 vaccine plan. All Marylanders age 16 and older with underlying conditions or disabilities are currently eligible to be vaccinated. According to the CDC, nearly 90 percent of all those hospitalized for COVID-19 have had an underlying medical condition. So getting these individuals vaccinated will go a long way toward protecting our most vulnerable citizens from the virus.

The state of Maryland has now administered 2,076,176 COVID-19 vaccines, including more than 140,000 in just the past 48 hours. We’re now averaging over 57,000 shots per day, which is one of the fastest rates in America. We are increasingly concerned that a number of highly transmissible variants are rapidly spreading across the country, particularly in New York, New Jersey, and throughout New England. They appear to be moving down the east coast, now including our neighboring states of Pennsylvania and Delaware. While we continue to do better than most states, we are obviously not immune to these variants, and viruses don’t recognize state borders. We’re doing sequencing testing for variants at one of the highest levels in the country, and this has enabled us to identify 677 cases of COVID-19 variants in Maryland. 86 percent of which are the B117 or U.K. variant. We also have detected at least six other variants, including the New York, California, South Africa, and both the B1 and the new B2 Brazilian strains. We are quite literally in a race between these variants and the vaccines. Across America, these variants are driving an increase in new infections and hospitalizations, particularly among younger people. Here in our state, we have seen an increase, primarily in Baltimore City and in Baltimore County, which is why we are continuing to take a cautious, safe, and balanced approach toward our health and economic recovery. It’s also why we continue to strongly urge Marylanders to continue doing the things that have successfully kept us safe, and to do them for just a while longer, because we are not out of the woods yet. This virus is still very much with us.

While some states have lifted masks mandates and all their restrictions, our state masking order remains in full force and effect. Over the past year, all of the data and all of the science have proven that the very simple step of wearing masks continues to be the single best mitigation strategy we have to stop the spread of COVID-19.

We’re also continuing to advice against travel to states with high rates, and we encourage you to get tested upon your return if you do travel to one of these states. In our effort to win this race against these variants, in addition to doing as many vaccinations as quickly as we can, we’re also focused on prioritizing vaccines for the most vulnerable Marylanders and those in hard-to-reach areas of the state. Earlier today, the first federal mobile vaccination units in the nation arrived at the Maryland Emergency Management Agency headquarters in Reisterstown. In the coming days, these 32-foot trailers will be fanning out across the state, together along with special FEMA strike teams to help us get more shots into arms in remote areas and zip codes that rank high on the CDC’s social vulnerability index.

This operation builds on the mobile clinics that the state launched last month, with the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force, which has completed or is in the process of completing nearly 100 missions. They’re adding additional clinics nearly every single day, including this week at Mount Zion Church in Harford County, Sacred Heart Church in Baltimore City, and the Muslim Community Center in Silver Spring. I want to commend General Janeen Birckhead and her entire team at the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force. Thanks to their incredible efforts engaging with community partners, we continue to see significant increases in the vaccination rate in the hard-hit zip codes, including a 108 percent increase in Glenardin, where we opened a major equity task force clinic, 97 percent increase in Mondawmin, a focus area for our Baltimore Convention Center site, and a 163 percent increase in our first mobile clinic. The Biden administration twice this week recognized the state of Maryland for having the first and most advanced equity plans

In February, we asked each county to appoint a liaison to our Vaccine Equity Task Force, and in addition to that we asked them to produce their own equity plans for their individual jurisdictions. Unfortunately, many local governments still have not done so. So the Maryland Department of Health is now requiring county health officers to immediately submit their finalized equity plans no later than Monday, April 5th.

The state Health Department will also be providing each county with a targeted list of underserved zip codes and a list of specific congregate facilities in their jurisdiction which we need them to concentrate their efforts on to ensure they do not leave anyone in their counties behind.

On Tuesday I had another meeting with the White House coronavirus task force, and as promised this week we began to see an increase in vaccine supplies from the federal government. And the White House has pledged in the next week and weeks ahead we should see an increased supply. As a result of the robust infrastructure we have built, our rapidly accelerating vaccination rate, and critically that vaccine supply, we will likely be able to make an announcement in the days ahead regarding further acceleration of vaccine eligibility phases. Effective today, we are immediately opening pre-registration to phase 3, meaning all Marylanders age 16 and older. Let me repeat that. As of today, every single Marylander who wants a COVID-19 vaccine can now preregister for an appointment at a mass vaccination site. Nearly 300,000 Marylanders have already successfully pre-registered, and we encourage all Marylanders to preregister by visiting COVIDvax.maryland.gov or by calling the state’s COVID-19 vaccination support center at 1-855-MD-GOVAX. I want to stress that even though we are now opening pre-registration to all Marylanders, individuals who are currently eligible under phase 1 and phase 2, but have still not yet been vaccinated, will continue to be prioritized.

We now have more than 3,000 points of vaccine distribution across the state, including 227 nursing homes and 1700 assisted living facilities. We’ve now expanded to 320 pharmacies, more than 100 doctor’s offices, we obviously have 38 hospitals and 24 health departments assisting. Last week we announced the launch of six additional state mass vaccination sites, for a total of 12, all of which will be open and fully operational in the next few weeks. A mass vaccination clinic opened in Montgomery County this week, which will transition to a higher value state run site. Next week, on April 7th, a mass vaccination will start in Prince George’s County, at the Greenbelt Metro station in partnership with FEMA, and will serve 3,000 a day, primarily Prince Georgians and zip codes prioritized by the equity passports. Also we are opening a mass vaccination site in Baltimore County in Timonium. The following week, April 12th, we launch mass vaccination sites in Frederick County at the Frederick Community College and in Anne Arundel County at the Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. We will also open a mass vax site at Ripken Stadium in Harford County the week of April 19th, and at the Mall in Columbia in Howard County the week of April 26th.

In addition, beginning tomorrow, the Eastern Shore mass vaccination site in Salisbury will open a no appointment necessary walkup line for any eligible Marylander. Our plan is to continue to add additional no-appointment lines at other mass vaccination sites as well. However, we still recommend that the best way to ensure that you get a vaccine at any of our sites is to preregister and to schedule an appointment, again, at COVIDvax.maryland.gov, to ensure that a vaccine and an appointment is available to you.

I have directed the Department of Health and the Department of Aging to immediately work with local jurisdictions on plans to reopen our senior centers across the state. Prior to these safe reopenings, closed-pod vaccination clinics will be held at the senior centers across the state in coordination with local health departments and clinical partners so that we can ensure the return of safe indoor activities at the senior centers.

In closing, this is Holy Week, with many Marylanders observing Passover or preparing to celebrate Easter, two holidays that both remind us to have faith, even in the darkest and most bleak of circumstances. And this past year has been one of the most difficult times that many of us have ever been through. Marylanders have made and continue to make incredible sacrifices to protect themselves, their families, and their neighbors against an enemy that has taken a heartbreaking toll on our state, on the nation, and the world. And my hope is that the people of our state will continue to have faith, because we will get through this together, and better days truly are ahead.

With that, I’d be happy to take some questions.

SPEAKER: (Question off mic.) Governor, what more can you tell us about that? When did you become aware, and does this impact — and do you think the concern it gives Baltimore, Maryland, a black eye?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: Those are three good questions. I just became aware of it yesterday as it became public and most of the — most of the world became aware. It was not mentioned by the White House on our Tuesday call. We at this point don’t know the exact impact it is going to have, although we’ve been led to believe from our federal partners that it’s not going to directly impact our allocations at least for the foreseeable future, and we’re hoping that’s the case. I don’t think it gives Baltimore a bad name. I mean, obviously, there was some major screwup at this plant with human error of some type, I don’t know the details of it. I don’t think you can pin that on the City of Baltimore. And I don’t know exactly how it went about. But the good news is the robust program we have at the FDA, is that they make sure none of these things have been utilized and that they caught the problem before it became a bigger problem.

SPEAKER: Since your announcement on restrictions, cases and hospitalizations are increasing over 60 percent. Did the state open too fast, and have you considered the possibility of reimposing some restrictions?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: We meet almost every day with our team of experts and epidemiologists, and we’re following the science. We don’t think it had anything to do with reopenings. As I mentioned, the worst cases now are in New York and New England, and New York has some of the strictest lockdowns and much more things are closed than there we have here. Luckily we are in better shape than a lot of states. I think there are 28 states don’t have mask mandates. We’re not one of them. The Biden administration were somewhat critical of states that removed mask mandates. We’ve talked about some people closing businesses. Our impression is the variants are more contagious, that’s why it’s spreading across the country. We’re better than the most of the country. We’re better than the region. We’re concerned about the variants. But it doesn’t have anything to do with reopening.

SPEAKER: The walkups in Salisbury are due to not many appointments down there? Where do you see — how fast do you see this progressing now as you move through these phases?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: I think we’re going to move pretty fast. So we have now, I think, I didn’t see today’s numbers, yesterday we had administered or 99.6 or 99.4 percent of every vaccine we had received, I think that was number one in America, it’s up there. We can’t go any faster than that. But if they keep getting us more, we will keep giving them all to someone. That’s why I think we’ve got the most robust, most dispersed plan, with 3,000 points of distribution. I don’t think there’s another much larger state with 12 mass vax sites. We’re attacking it from all directions. I think as long as they continue to provide the supply, which we’re being promised, but we have no control over, that we will be able to finish asĀ  many vaccines as we can possibly get done by the end of May.

SPEAKER: There was criticism this week on CNN on the origins — anything about these comments, and where do you stand?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: Well, so, I think some of the people that criticized him had not seen the comments and they jumped to conclusions, quite frankly. I watched the entire CNN two hour special, and the 60 Minutes program that was before that on Sunday night. Dr. Fauci, the former head of the World Health Organization, the Biden administration, most world leaders are echoing pretty much exactly what Dr. Redfield said. He said nothing whatsoever that was inflammatory. He said it was his personal opinion. He’s one of the most educated experts on virology in the world, and the CDC has much more information than I do. But for people to play politics and attack him for giving his professional opinion, which I thought he did a very good job of explaining, and everyone on CNN agreed with, you know, Sanjay Gupta and everybody else that was on the show. Nobody thought it was inflammatory. And there’s a very serious problem of anti-Asian hatred and violence that I’m very much aware of, having a wife and three daughters and four grandkids, and I’ve been one of the leaders speaking out, equating him giving a professional opinion with people attacking Asians, it was outrageous and disgusting in my opinion, political nonsense, and they should probably apologize to Dr. Redfield.

SPEAKER: A clarification, the sites in Wicomico and the mass vaccination sites, were people having trouble filling appointments there?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: We allocate every single week exactly where we need to go with exactly how many we need. We’ve said, and I’ve got to go back — I said at some point it’s going to change over from, you know, people saying we can’t get an appointment to, we’re going to have too many vaccines and we’re going to be looking for people. You know, the Eastern Shore was desperately looking for a mass vax site. We opened one. We have plenty of capacity, so we’re filling that capacity with people wherever in the state that have appointments. That’s the plan. But all our mass vax sites will first be busy, and then slow down to — the goal is to put ourselves out of business. The goal is not to have long lines at 12 mass vax sites forever. Our goal is to have people get the vaccine, like with people over 65. Right now it’s slowing down because 75 percent of the people have been vaccinated. The other 25 percent, we either haven’t found or reached them, or they don’t want the vaccine. So we’re opening faster. We’re going to continue to make decisions every day about allocations and openings until we can’t find another person that wants one. But I think when it gets to the point when you can go to any doctor’s office, any pharmacy, and there are thousands of places to go, there’s less demand for the mass vax sites, and we’ll continue to supply as needed, then close them and move on.

SPEAKER: (Question off mic.) Can you explain how the state works, when those decisions are made?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: Our Health Department talks to their health officers nearly every single day, we have weekly meetings and we inform them as soon as decisions are made. When we announce something, that’s how they get the announcement. And as things change day to day, we try to make sure they keep up.

SPEAKER: (Question off mic.) There’s a lot of people that have read this in DC in particular who have been signing up and driving all the way to Salisbury, and encouraging other DC residents to get vaccinated there. What are your efforts to control outside of Marylanders eagerly coming?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: First of all, I think it’s great for people all over Maryland to drive to Salisbury to get vaccinated. We want to encourage far more people to do that. This is Easter weekend. It’s a big weekend for Ocean City. I would say if you want to get one, go to the beach, stop in Salisbury, get vaccinated, go to Ocean City, get some French fries, and go to brunch on Easter Sunday. They’re federal assets. We’re required to vaccinate people, we do Marylanders in other states, other people from other states in our state, we have no way to change that, but the vast majority, 99 percent or something of our people are all Marylanders.

SPEAKER: Are you encouraging DC residents?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: No, we’re encouraging all Marylanders. I think the one opening in Greenbelt is going to see a lot of people from DC and Virginia, and that’s FEMA’s intention. It’s not just going to be people from Maryland.

SPEAKER: There are some residents who said thank you for opening the Greenbelt Metro station. Are there any more plans — I mean — but is there going to be a plan to open a few more that people can walk to for better transportation accessibility

GOVERNOR HOGAN: Yes, well, so, both in M and T Stadium in Baltimore and the Convention Center site especially we get a lot of walk-in traffic, especially the Convention Center, we have churches and community centers and walk in sites. The goal is to reach people as much as possible where they are. Also getting into doctor’s offices and pharmacies in a particular area. So we’re getting to a point where more people can walk to a vaccine because we understand the problem of not everyone has the ability to get in the car and drive. We’re going to continue to focus on that. This was FEMA’s site. We provided information. They decided the final location to locate. But we’re very excited to work with them. I think you saw the announcement earlier that they’re not going to live up to the promise of 100 sites across the country, they’ll stop at 30, I think we were the last to get through. We’re very thankful and happy to have them here. It’s another tool in our arsenal to reach people, and I like the fact that it’s at a Metro stop and accessible by Metro trains and buses

SPEAKER: You made a number of announcements regarding eligibility throughout your administration. You announced 2B. One thing that was not listed was — in phase 2. Did you contemplate that?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: We moved ahead of schedule quite a bit, and I said we’re going to continue to make decisions on a daily basis, that we probably will have additional announcements in the days to come. We’re watching this every day on multiple fronts. One, we hear about what we might get from the feds, but we don’t know until almost like the day before. Like, for example, we did get an increase, but it’s not as high as we expected. We thought it might be 90,000 more, and it was like 30,000 more, because it was a fluctuation, so we got more of one and less of the other two. So we don’t want to make decisions based on false numbers, and we also don’t know the exact uptick. We know how many people are in each category, but now — not how fast they’re going to get it. We don’t want any vaccines sitting on the shelf, and we don’t want to not have vaccines for people who need them. We’ll adjust every couple days as we need to.

SPEAKER: Last question.

(Question off mic.)

GOVERNOR HOGAN: I think we’re at 372,000. It’s just that we expected close to 89,000, maybe one, and it turned out to be 30,000 increase, net increase over the last —

SPEAKER: (Question off mic.) What’s the correlation between decline in demand and increased supply that’s allowed you to — or are you concerned about the supply and demand?

GOVERNOR HOGAN: No, I’m really excited about that. Because I’ve been saying since January, you know, people are all over me about, nobody can get an appointment. You guys were, everybody was like — I was like, we can’t make an appointment for a vaccine we don’t have. When the supply comes and we’ve built all this, we’re going to have the opposite problem, too many vaccines and not enough people. We’re now getting to that point, which is why we’re opening to larger and larger groups. But the fact that now we’ve done 2.7 million, in a few days we’re going to hit 3 million vaccines, that’s pretty incredible! So 75 percent of all the people eligible that were, all the older people, the once ones we were most concerned about, the ones that were responsible for most of our hospitalizations and most of our deaths, they’re all vaccinated. So of course the demand has dropped off. The 25 percent that’s left, we’ve had discussions with lots of smart team members to say, you know, are there certain people — we don’t want anybody left behind, no seniors left behind, not a single one in Maryland, so is there anything we haven’t done yet, where can we find them? Some people don’t want the vaccine. Most polls say 60 percent of the people want the vaccine. We’ve already got 75 vaccinated. But that’s going to continue. We’re going to look at that uptick in the demand and supply every day. We’ve got it, I think, exactly right so far. There are some states that are completely overloaded, they opened up too fast with no vaccines. There’s other people that are, I think we’ve got — we’re working on from every angle. And I’m not saying we’re the smartest people in the world, but we’re watching it very closely, and we’ll make a move one way or the other based on the facts.

All right. Thank you.

(End of transcript).