Apr 10, 2020
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Coronavirus Briefing Transcript April 10
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan announced in an April 10 press conference he is launching a new testing program to fight COVID-19. Read the full transcript here.
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Larry Hogan: (00:00)
In partnership with Bloomberg Philanthropies and Johns Hopkins to fund groundbreaking research and to the potential therapeutic uses of COVID-19 convalescent plasma from recovered patients, which has the potential to save thousands of lives. The registry will also serve as a community platform to share experiences and lend support to others who are coping with the recovery process. It will also provide opportunities for these recovered patients to learn about potential research and clinical study opportunities, which may contribute to scientific progress in the treatment of COVID-19 through vaccine testing or medication trials.
Larry Hogan: (00:53)
To become part of this new registry recovered coronavirus patients are encouraged to go to health. maryland.gov/covidconnect. Obviously, the spread of this deadly virus is wreaking havoc on our national and state economies, on small businesses, and on struggling Americans and the people of our state. It is also having a dramatic impact on federal, state and local government revenues. A Maryland Comptroller, Peter Franchot announced this morning that the state of Maryland is projecting a potential revenue loss of up to $2.8 billion for the fiscal year 2020. This would represent a 50% decrease in revenues over the next 90 days and up to a 15% reduction in revenues for the fiscal year, which ends on July 1st.
Larry Hogan: (01:59)
In response, today we are taking the following actions at my direction. The state is immediately instituting a budget freeze on all state spending across all state government agencies. The exceptions are COVID-19 related expenses and payroll necessary to support our employees. The state of Maryland is also instituting a hiring freeze effective immediately. The Maryland Department of Budget and Management will be determining options and making recommendations for budget cuts, which will be required in all state agencies. This will include cuts to so-called mandated spending.
Larry Hogan: (02:47)
A few days ago we received 679 pieces of new legislation from the Maryland general assembly. Many of these legislative proposals call for substantial increases in state spending. While the executive branch has not yet had any time to review any of this proposed legislation. I want to be clear that it is very unlikely that any bills that require increased spending will be signed into law. In addition, the state will be tapping into and spending much of perhaps even all of the state’s rainy day fund balance. Responding to this crisis will likely create a multi-year budget issue which will require further a substantial budget reduction actions.
Larry Hogan: (03:50)
In addition to defeating this invisible enemy, this killer virus, and saving thousands of lives. There is nothing more important to me than getting our economy and our people back on their feet and to help hard-pressed Marylanders and small businesses get through this difficult period. We created a $175 million program, small business relief program. We ramped up our unemployment insurance program to help employees and employers. Yesterday, the Maryland Department of Labor reported that more than 108,000 new unemployment insurance claims have been filed in just the past a week. In the past a month over 240,000 Marylanders have filed for unemployment benefits. That is more new claims than we received in all of 2019. These are not just numbers. Each one of these represents a struggling Marylander who is experiencing real economic hardship right now.
Larry Hogan: (05:05)
Processing such volume of unemployment claims at the same time is not a problem which is unique to Maryland. The federal government and every state is having issues handling the overwhelming caseload. In Maryland however, over 95% of our citizens have been able to file their claims online without issue. There are still many people, however, who are unable to file online and are attempting to do so by phone because of the volume of up to thousands of calls per hour. People are having difficulty getting through on the phone lines. Even one unemployed Marylander not being able to be handled is completely unacceptable to me, which is why I directed the Maryland Department of Labor to use every resource at their disposal.
Larry Hogan: (06:04)
In addition, we are dedicating and detailing employees from other agencies and I have activated the full weight of the state government to assist the Department of Labor in ensuring that all unemployed Marylanders no matter how or when you file will get the help that they need and that they will receive every single penny that they’re entitled to as quickly as is possible. Three weeks ago, we issued a proclamation which postponed the April 28th primary election to June 2nd. The State Board of Elections was tasked with developing a comprehensive plan to conduct the primary election in a way that preserves the integrity of the democratic process in our state while also protecting public health. After considerable deliberation, the SBE voted to conduct the June 2nd primary, primarily through mail in ballots. Board of Elections also made the determination to make special accommodations with special polling places available for voters who are unable to vote by mail. Today, I have executed a proclamation ratifying those SBE decisions regarding the June 2nd primary election. We are joining them and strongly urging every Marylander who can vote by mail to cast their ballot by mail. We understand that there are a small number of exceptions including individuals without a fixed address and voters with special needs. We want to stress that in these rare cases where people must vote in person, significant social distancing practices must be implemented by the state and local election board officials.
Larry Hogan: (08:12)
Free and fair elections are the very foundation of American democracy and our ultimate goal must be to do everything possible to ensure that the voice of every Marylander is heard in a safe and secure manner. Lastly, this is holy week with many Marylanders observing Passover and preparing to celebrate Easter Sunday. I will miss sharing Easter with my kids and grandkids, seeing them hunt for Easter eggs. I particularly will miss not eating all of their Easter candy. It is currently unsafe to have church services or to host holiday gatherings, but we do want families to celebrate and enjoy the holidays in a safe way.
Larry Hogan: (09:14)
For the kids out there who have been concerned, I want to offer some reassuring news. Today, I am officially proclaiming the Easter bunny as an essential worker in Maryland. He therefore will be able to proceed with his hopping across the state, delivering Easter baskets to Maryland children. There have been other times in our history that events and conflicts have prevented us from celebrating holidays in the way that we are accustomed to. The way we celebrate this weekend …
Larry Hogan: (10:03)
… will be very different, but that in no way should diminish the promise of Easter, which celebrates a resurrection after a period of suffering and sacrifice. Easter really is a day of hope, which is something that all of us could desperately use right now. So this weekend I ask all Marylanders regardless of their faith, to reflect on that spirit of hope and to carry it forward in these difficult days and weeks ahead. And now I will turn it over to our labor secretary Tiffany Robinson, who will further discuss the aggressive efforts being undertaken to speed unemployment assistance to those who desperately need it. Thank you.
Tiffany Robinson: (11:14)
Good afternoon. Thank you Governor for your leadership. The governor has directed our department to do everything possible to help Marylanders going through tough times right now, and that’s what I’d like to address today. As non-essential businesses have closed to protect the health and safety of our citizens, our businesses and workforce are facing unimaginable difficulties. Unfortunately, unemployment has become a reality for many Marylanders. The Department of Labor does a lot of things, but right now I can assure you that we are all hands on deck to provide Marylanders with the financial support that they need.
Tiffany Robinson: (11:51)
Due to the sheer volume of claims, Marylanders are facing longer than usual wait times on our phone lines. I know that can be extremely frustrating. We have made and we continue to make numerous changes to accommodate this significant surge and to provide better customer service to Marylanders. We’re adding additional servers to increase the speed and capacity of our online application, which is 24/7. We’re encouraging Marylanders to file their claims online and during off hours like early in the morning and late at night.
Tiffany Robinson: (12:25)
This part of our system is working very well. Since the beginning of March, over 95% of all new unemployment insurance claims have been filed online successfully and without issue, but we know that some Marylanders are not able to file their initial claim entirely online, like those were federal employees or those who have worked out of state. So we are diligently working to expand capacity of our online system even further to give more claimants the option of filing online rather than having to file by phone. As improvements are made to our system, messaging and instructions will be posted on our website at mdunemployment.com. This is also where Marylanders can file their claims online and get answers to their frequently asked questions which are being updated daily.
Tiffany Robinson: (13:16)
So with 95% of all new claims being filed online, what are we doing for the 5% of claimants that desperately need to reach us by phone? Our claim centers are currently not open to the public in an effort to protect the health and safety of our customers and our staff, but those centers are fully operational with extended hours from 7:00 AM to 6:00 PM, Monday through Friday. Our teams are doing their very best to keep up with this unprecedented volume while giving each and every claimant the time and attention they deserve. To help spread out this large volume of phone calls, we’ve implemented a new filing procedure and encouraged claimants to file on a certain day based on the first letter of their last name. This is helping to reduce wait times, but not enough. So starting after this holiday weekend, we will be offering additional Saturday hours to give Marylanders another day of the week when they can contact us by phone. We’re also in the process of ramping up the size of our unemployment insurance team by temporarily reassigning over 150 state employees and hiring additional contractual employees. We’re in the process of more than doubling our claim center staffing. This will ensure that we can better serve our customers and reduce the backlog of phone calls.
Tiffany Robinson: (14:36)
We realize that many Marylanders are filing for unemployment for the first time in their lives and that they have lots of questions and concerns, so we’ve created a dedicated email address at email@example.com. This is for those seeking answers to their questions without having to wait on our phone lines. We’re adding staff to that response team in order to answer those questions for Marylanders as quickly as possible. We also receive a lot of questions about the timeline for payments, so I thought I would just answer that one for everyone today.
Tiffany Robinson: (15:08)
Despite the volume of claims, most Marylanders are receiving their first benefit payment in less than 21 days. This first payment which comes on a debit card covers all weekly benefits back to a claimant’s date of eligibility. Since March 9th, we’ve made over 215,000 payments totaling over 76 million in benefits for Marylanders, and by ramping up our unemployment insurance team, we look forward to reducing processing times and getting benefits paid even faster.
Tiffany Robinson: (15:41)
Finally, I’d like to give an update on the expanded unemployment insurance benefits for Marylanders under the Federal Cares Act. The Maryland Department of Labor opted to providing all three of the expanded programs offered to States under the Cares Act. Since recently receiving critical guidance for two of the three programs from the US Department of Labor, we have been working around the clock to modify our existing mainframe system, train staff, and complete rigorous testing to ensure a smooth and successful implementation of these programs.
Tiffany Robinson: (16:14)
By the end of next week, we plan to begin implementation of the new federal pandemic unemployment compensation program or what some are calling the $600 plus program, and everyone eligible for benefits ending the week of April 4th will begin receiving an additional $600 per week on top of current regular benefits. Please note that claimant’s will receive this additional $600 on the day that they normally receive benefits. So while we’re rolling this out next week, Marylanders will begin to see the increase in their next regularly scheduled payment.
Tiffany Robinson: (16:51)
Depending on when they’re determined to be eligible for benefits, Maryland claimants will receive all back pay that they are owed. We’re also partnering with a vendor to expedite and streamline the implementation of the other two programs under the Cares Act. The extended benefits program will allow us to pay Marylanders currently receiving benefits as well as newly approved claimants, an additional 13 weeks of unemployment insurance benefits. And we know many Marylanders are waiting for the new pandemic unemployment assistance program or PUA, which will allow us to expand eligibility to those who are self employed, independent contractors, gig workers, those who have insufficient work history and more.
Tiffany Robinson: (17:34)
These individuals can visit our website now and enter their email address to be notified directly as soon as this program is available. I do want to emphasize again that all claimants will receive benefits retroactive to their earliest date of eligibility. This is true for both regular benefits and for the new benefit programs created by the Federal Cares Act. In closing, I’d just like to provide a message to Marylanders accessing our services at the Department of Labor. We know how important it is to get you the benefits you need and deserve.
Tiffany Robinson: (18:08)
We know what is at stake. Tour family, your livelihood, your future. We do not take our responsibilities lightly, and we will do everything in our power to support you during these uncertain times. We’re here for you, and we will get through this together. Thank you. Now I’d like to turn it over to Fran Phillips from the Department of Health.
Fran Phillips: (18:34)
Thank you, Secretary Robinson and Governor Hogan. A few remarks to highlight some of the remarks that the governor made in connection with the go teams. These are the teams that have been in operation now for 72 hours across the state, and I want to thank General Gowan and the the National Guard for being a tremendous partner with us in public health along with hospitals as well as the Maryland State Emergency Management Service to put these teams together. So thank you General.
Fran Phillips: (19:08)
The teams started on Wednesday, and the teams went in on Wednesday to a variety of group homes where as the governor said, there are some very very vulnerable, very medically fragile children, and this was a total of over 65 children were visited by these teams to assess, does the facility have all of the gear in place, all of the protective equipment? Does this facility have the understanding of where to go if any of these children should begin to develop symptoms? What are the resources necessary for these homes?
Fran Phillips: (19:44)
Yesterday, the team then branched out to nursing homes, and right now, as we speak again today, that those teams are around the state responding to nursing homes that have requested assistance or have been requested on behalf of local health departments. This is a tremendous asset to-
Fran Phillips: (20:03)
… the residents of nursing homes, and I’d like to characterize the teams three ways. The teams right now are doing assessments. They’re looking, as I said, for resources, looking for the management capability, but there are other models in place that can be triggered if the need exists. If there’s need for teams to go in and to do testing, widespread testing, whether that’s testing of residents or testing of staff, we have a testing model in place for these go teams. And then lastly, for direct care delivery, if there is a need to go onsite to triage residents, to stabilize them, perhaps to begin some medical procedures or provide care that would not ordinarily be in the nursing home, to have that available onsite and to be able to go in, mobilize very, very quickly with these care delivery teams. So again, it’s a partnership across the state and it focuses on our most vulnerable folks. I want to shift gears a little bit and talk to some other people … Talk about some other people in Maryland, who as the governor said, have now gone through that entire course of disease, and these are people that have experienced COVID-19 disease. They have been confirmed and they have gone through their entire experience, and they’re now at the end. They have been released from isolation. By the end of the day today, we will have over 400 such people here in Maryland, and they have tremendous stories to tell. I’ve spoken directly to many of them and they are tremendously relieved, first of all, and grateful to the care that they got, and relieved that they too can celebrate this holiday weekend with their families.
Fran Phillips: (21:42)
But what has been so striking is their interest in giving back. In sharing their experience, in helping other people who perhaps are experiencing isolation, helping them, the patients and their families, and also to be available for research studies as we begin to understand this new virus, to understand how we can test for it, and ultimately how we can develop vaccines. So these people, these 400 people and growing, will now have the opportunity to come together on this registry, COVID Connect, that’s health.maryland.gov/covidconnect, and share their stories voluntarily and to be able to be what we’re calling public health champions, based on their wonderful experiences.
Fran Phillips: (22:28)
So the last thing I’ll close with is, again, a reminder that we are, across Maryland and across the world, engaged in a holiday weekend, a holiday week, and the instincts, our history is to come together in our families, and this is going to be a very, very different year. So holiday, spring holiday in 2000 is one that is unbelievably different from the ones we’ve had in the past. And so I too will miss my children, my grandchildren, and I’ll miss their holiday candy, but I do share with them, and I will share with them, through Zoom and other video devices, opportunities to connect, and also to remind them how sincerely grateful we are for this opportunity to come together as a state and to share this memory. This will be a unique memory for all of us going forward. Thank you.
Larry Hogan: (23:23)
We would be happy to take a few questions.
Speaker 1: (23:24)
Larry Hogan: (23:42)
I’ll let Fran Phillips address that.
Speaker 1: (23:52)
[inaudible 00:23:52] have received the highest number of tests. I wanted to know where that information came from.
Fran Phillips: (23:58)
Right. Those test results all come in from various labs to the state health department. And so on a daily basis we get information on all of the positives, all of the negatives that are occurring. These are occurring in the state of Maryland. And so what we put on our website are individuals who are state residents, and by zip code … I’m sorry not by zip code now, we are getting to that point, but across the state in terms of their confirmed status. So the second question that you had was-
Speaker 1: (24:28)
Fran Phillips: (24:36)
I’ll have to look at the data on that.
Speaker 1: (24:37)
The second one, [inaudible 00:00:24:39], based on residency, where the patient actually lives, or where the test was done?
Fran Phillips: (24:45)
That’s a very good question and I want to talk about that for a minute. It’s based on where the patient, the person lives, not where the test was done. And so what’s important to remember is that people travel even for essential services. So that a snapshot of where a particular case might be recorded is not necessarily comprehensive as far as where infection may occur in the state. Thank you.
Speaker 2: (25:10)
Governor, according to [inaudible 00:05:18].
Larry Hogan: (25:29)
Well, so this was a projection by the comptroller, just came out today based on kind of a worst case scenario over the next 90 days, but we’re going to be working together with … Our budget office, we’ll be working together with the comptroller’s office to figure out exactly what recommendations they’re going to make. We’ve only had a matter of a couple of hours to look at the projections and I think he was looking at a worst case potential scenario, hopefully we will not have to make the kind of cuts that he was envisioning, but that’s certainly a possibility.
Speaker 2: (26:17)
Larry Hogan: (26:22)
So, that’s a decision for the state superintendent schools. Not for me, but we have had some discussions, she’s part of many of our discussions on an almost daily basis. She talks with her superintendent schools, talks with the local school superintendents and with our health department. I think it is a decision that I’m sure they will make over the next couple of weeks. They’ll make that decision based on whether what they believe that health situation is and what they believe their ability to do distance learning. I don’t know about her comment that was reported in the paper about the fall, but I believe they will make a decision fairly shortly about what happens with the remainder of this spring semester.
Speaker 3: (27:04)
Governor, could you also talk about the regional aspect of this? You’ve also mentioned states have been competing with each other for protective equipment. Is there enough PPE in the District of Columbia and Virginia for this, and how is that?
Larry Hogan: (27:21)
I think there’s been really good cooperation between the district and state of Virginia and the Commonwealth of Virginia with the state of Maryland. We’ve had ongoing discussions between just with the regional leaders, and they’ve also participated in all of my national governors association discussions with the president, vice president. We’ve included Mayor Boser in those discussions, although she’s not a governor and it’s not a state, but we have included her as if she was. So we’ve been in lots of discussions with the leaders in the region together. And I think we’re, while we may have a little difference here and there about actions we may have taken or they’ve taken, I think there’s been tremendous cooperation between us. I pushed very hard on behalf of the entire region, at the federal level to try to get the Maryland, DC, and Virginia region to be considered as an important focus and priority to talk about the Baltimore Washington corridor to be a hotspot, which included not just 12 of our Maryland jurisdictions, but it’s also the district of Columbia.
Larry Hogan: (28:26)
So I think we’ve been working very well together. We’re not competing. We’re actually trying to work together as a region because I think it’s in our best interest. We all represent folks that live in one jurisdiction and work in another and they’re commuting back and forth. And it’s also the Washington area that includes Maryland, DC, and Virginia. Not just the immediate Washington area, but the three states in their entirety. We’re very important to the nation’s security. We have more than 400,000 federal workers in every single agency. And we’re important to the rest of the nation’s response.
Speaker 4: (29:13)
Larry Hogan: (29:16)
No, what I just said was the things that were excluded was we were trying to protect all of our employees and we have COVID unrelated expenses, but this just came up like two hours ago. So the budget and management department will be making recommendations there, but no discussions at this point yet about specific cuts.
Speaker 3: (29:42)
Larry Hogan: (29:45)
So look, it’s, as I think Fran Phillips talked about, if everybody’s looked at this, we are a couple of weeks behind some of those other hotspots. If you look at our numbers, we are ramping up the curve. This is going to be one of our most dangerous times ever this weekend, and over the next week or so.
Larry Hogan: (30:03)
This will be the worst possible time for people to be violating executive orders and to be congregating together. Literally, you are taking your own life in your hands and you’re threatening the lives of others to do something like that. So as difficult as it is, particularly on a holiday weekend when people want to be together and people want to practice their faiths and they want to be at church and they want to be with family, it’s a really dangerous time to be doing it. So we’re hopeful that people are going to be following the executive orders and local health departments and local governments are going to be trying to enforce and keep people safe.
Larry Hogan: (30:53)
I’m not sure if it’s a bandaid, but it’s certainly part of the solution. It’s not the whole solution. I mean, this is the number one question in America today is when will worldwide companies and companies across America and be able to ramp up production fast enough to get enough PPE? Something we’re handling at a state level but that other states are trying to deal with. Every one of my fellow governors is talking about on every one of our so far 12 conference calls with all the governors. It’s what you hear about every single day and every press conference with the president and vice president. It’s the number one problem we have today is the lack of PPE.
Larry Hogan: (31:36)
It’s definitely not anywhere near where it needs to be and we can’t put any numbers on it.
Larry Hogan: (31:40)
So we’ve been meeting for weeks on an ongoing basis. We had another call today with our coronavirus response team, which is made up of some really smart epidemiologist and public health doctors from some of our leading institutions here in Maryland. And they all have different models. There’s national models that everybody can go online and look at. And then all of our individual institutions have different modeling. It is not an exact science., It’s more of an art. But there are a lot of people looking at different variables.
Larry Hogan: (32:27)
I can tell you that the worst case modeling was really terrible. That’s why we took all these very early and aggressive actions. We believe that many of the actions that we took and that the people are helping us take are having a real impact. And that we are very hopeful that our numbers on infections and our numbers on hospitalization rates and deaths are going to be much lower than they would have been. But we won’t know the complete impact of that until it actually happens. So we know we’re still heading up that curve, going uphill, but we don’t know how high this climb is going to be, how long it’s going to take to get there or when it will level off. But the numbers were staggering had we not done anything. And now the question is how effective are all these things going to be? And people staying home and continuing to do the social distance to is making a huge difference and only time will tell how much of a difference it’s going to make.
Larry Hogan: (33:27)
I mean, those kinds of details I think we’d have to address to the budget office, but it’s a freeze on all non-essential, non-emergency spending other than making sure that our state employees continue to be able to stay employed and feed their families and that we pay for these emergency expenses. So I don’t want to nitpick about it. We’re not going to let something blow up or fall apart, but we’re not going to be spending on things that we can obviously push off or not do any kind of excess spending that you wouldn’t have to do.
Larry Hogan: (34:22)
Actually, I never talked about vetoing anything. I just said that it was very unlikely that anything that had anything to do with spending would be signed into law.
Larry Hogan: (34:30)
On the ramping up of what?
Speaker 5: (34:45)
Ramping up of [inaudible 00:34:48].
Larry Hogan: (34:54)
We actually ramped up I think faster than just about anybody in America. We upgraded our online capability three weeks ago, three and a half weeks ago. And I raised this issue with the president and the vice president on a call with all the governors saying that when our upgraded system, which was handling the claims, when you click through to the federal department of labor site, it crashed. So we got them to fix their system. But no, there was no way to anticipate 240,000 claims in two weeks and the fact that everybody would be trying to call on the phone at the same time. No one anticipated that at the federal level or any state in America.
Speaker 5: (35:35)
Last question [inaudible 00:35:36]
Larry Hogan: (35:40)
So far, two days ago, I think they sent us 679 bills. As I said, we have not looked at a single one. There is no one in the executive branch of government that is going to waste any time looking at any of those anytime soon. We have 30 days to do that. I just put everybody on notice today that it’s very unlikely that anything requiring additional spending will be considered to be signed into law.
Speaker 5: (36:05)
Larry Hogan: (36:05)