May 27, 2020
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Coronavirus Briefing Transcript May 27
Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a May 27 coronavirus press conference. He said Maryland is ready to move to full Stage 1 of reopening. Hogan lifted restrictions on outdoor dining, youth sports, camps, pools and drive-in movies.
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Larry Hogan: (00:15)
Good evening. Two weeks ago, thanks to the extraordinary sacrifices of Marylander’s, and after seeing a 14 day downward trend of the key benchmark metrics called for in our Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery, I announced that we were able to cautiously begin entering stage one of our state’s recovery. Now, after another 14 days of continued encouraging trends, Maryland is ready to take the additional steps to complete stage one of our gradual safe and effective recovery plan. We have continued to make dramatic progress on a robust testing system in our state. As of today, Maryland reached its goal of conducting 10,000 tests per day. We have now completed 300,344 COVID-19 tests statewide, and we are continuing to dramatically expand testing capacity. We’re opening another two additional testing sites in Prince George’s County this week, including the Veep Station in Clinton on Thursday and Six flags America in Upper Marlboro on Friday. Additionally, Maryland’s contact tracing operation is now fully operational to support local health departments across all of the state’s 24 jurisdictions. We have increased our state’s contact tracing capacity by nearly 500%, with more than 1,400 case investigators now operating statewide. Maryland is currently able to assist local officials in tracking up to 1,000 cases and 10,000 contacts daily as part of an all hands on deck effort to find and fight the virus. This expanded testing and tracing capacity gives us the ability to take a closer and much more accurate look at positivity rates, which are another very important indicator of our recovery and a key metric, which is now being used by the CDC and other states to track the containment progress of COVID-19.
Larry Hogan: (02:55)
This information is now available on our dashboard at coronavirus. maryland.gov. The State Department of Health is now using the same rolling seven day average that is recommended by the new federal CDC guidelines. In Maryland, our statewide positivity rate peaked 41 days ago on April 17th, when it reached 26.91%. Since then, it has dropped by more than 50% down to just 12.8% statewide. Positivity rate in Baltimore City is down 54% from a high of 27.38 on April 19th, to 12.71% today. Baltimore County is equally low at 12.72. And both of them are slightly below the state average. Prince George’s and Montgomery Counties while still above the rest of the state with respect to positivity are also seeing dramatic decreases.
Larry Hogan: (04:11)
The positivity rate in Prince George’s County has dropped by nearly 50%, from a high of 41.96% on May 2nd, to a current rate of 21.66%. And Montgomery County has also dropped by more than 50%, from a high of 32.64% to now 15.84%. The average daily death rate has also dropped by more than 50% since the peak, which occurred nearly a month ago on April 29th. Total hospitalizations are down 22% since their peak on April 30th. And down 17% in just the last 14 days. The number of patients in ICU has been on a steady level plateau for 28 days, since April 29th. Over the past two weeks, we have been encouraged by all the successful stage one reopenings all across the state. And by all the improvements in the important data and metrics statewide. All of this progress allows us to now safely move forward with the completion of stage one of the recovery plan.
Larry Hogan: (05:43)
Effective Friday, May 29th at 5:00 PM, restaurants, as well as social organizations, such as American Legions, VFWs, or Elks Clubs, et cetera, will be able to begin safely reopening for outdoor dining, following strict public health requirements, consistent with the CDC, the FDA and the National Restaurant Association. Restaurant patrons must be appropriately distanced with no more than six people seated at a table. Restaurants are required to either use single use disposable paper menus or sanitize reusable menus between each use. And to sanitize the outdoor tables and chairs between each customer seating. All restaurant staff must be trained in current COVID-19 health and workplace guidelines. Restaurants must begin screening procedures, including daily temperature checks of all staff, and masks or face coverings must be worn when interacting with other employees or patrons. We are also strongly encouraging local leaders to find innovative ways to help support our restaurant businesses.
Larry Hogan: (07:03)
We love the idea of closing streets for outside seating in Little Italy, and Fells Point, and Baltimore City, on West Street and Main Street in Annapolis, on Bethesda Row and in other towns across the state. Allowing for the closing of streets and expanding into parking lots and public outdoor spaces can help expand the footprints allowing for safer outdoor dining, and it can help many of these struggling restaurants to survive the crisis. Also effective at 5:00 PM on Friday, many other outdoor activities will be able to safely resume. Including safe youth sports activities, following CDC guidelines, with limited low contact outdoor practices, focused on individual skill building, with limited group sizes, limited touching of shared equipment and gear, and the ability to engage in physical distancing while not actively engaged in play.
Larry Hogan: (08:16)
Youth day camps may resume for outdoor activities with capacity limitations of no more than 10 individuals in a group. And daily COVID symptom checks for youth camp staff and campers. No out of state or overnight campers will be permitted. And physical distancing and masks will be required for staff and camp attendees. Outdoor pools may also reopened with strict safety guidelines, including 25% capacity restrictions, and strict physical distancing and sanitation measures. Patrons will be required to sign in and sign out, and pools will be required to post signage warning anyone who is sick not to enter. Drive-in-
Larry Hogan: (09:03)
Signage warning anyone who is sick not to enter. Drive in movie theaters will also be able to safely reopen.
Larry Hogan: (09:09)
As we did with the beginning of stage one, detailed information and guidelines regarding these additional reopenings is now available at open.maryland.gov/backtobusiness. The Maryland Strong: Roadmap to Recovery plan was based on a flexible community based approach. And at the request of county leaders, we empowered counties to make certain decisions regarding the timing of reopenings in their individual jurisdictions. 23 out of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions have now either entered stage one or have announced their plans to do so. And now, as of Friday at five o’clock, all jurisdictions statewide are able to move forward with fully completing stage one reopenings. Our coronavirus recovery team will be continuing to watch all of the data very closely. And if these encouraging trends continue into next week, we would then be in a position to begin entering stage two of our recovery, which would mean a lifting of the order and allowing other non-essential businesses to begin reopening.
Larry Hogan: (10:47)
While we are moving to safely reopen our economy and put more people back to work, we want to continue to strongly stress the need to follow CDC guidelines. The fight against this virus is by no means over. We must all continue to remain vigilant, particularly as we begin to come into contact with more people. Lower risk does not mean no risk, and safer does not mean completely safe. Just because you can do something does not mean that you should, particularly if you are a person in a vulnerable category, or if you are around someone who is. If you can stay home, you should continue to do so, as much as you can. You should continue to avoid crowds of people. Outdoor activities remain safer than indoor activities. And if you can work from home, you should continue working from home. It remains critical that Marylanders continue practicing physical distancing, staying six feet apart, wearing masks in indoor public areas, including retail stores, and that they avoid using public transportation, unless it is absolutely necessary. Our longterm recovery can only be effective if everyone continues exercising personal responsibility for ourselves, for our families, our coworkers, and our fellow Marylanders.
Larry Hogan: (12:41)
48,423 Marylanders have already been infected. 8281 have been hospitalized. 2270 Marylanders and now over 100,000 Americans have lost their lives to this deadly virus. And though we continue to make great progress toward recovery, COVID-19 is still very much a deadly threat, and our responsible behavior is absolutely critical in the continued efforts to defeat it. Unfortunately, there are still some people who are clearly not taking this pandemic seriously, who are acting recklessly, and whose actions are needlessly putting themselves and others at risk. And if too many people engage in this type of behavior, it could threaten to cause another spike, which could cause even further destruction to our economy. But thankfully, the vast majority of our citizens clearly understand that while doing things like avoiding crowds and practicing physical distancing and wearing masks may be inconvenient, that these are some of the best tools that we have to continue to slow the spread of the virus and to put us in a position to rebuild and restore our economy and to finally defeat this invisible enemy. Time and time again, during this difficult period, Marylanders have stepped up and risen to meet this unprecedented challenge. And while we still have a long way to go, thanks to each and every one of you, we truly are on the road to recovery. I want to say thank you. And with that, we’ll be happy to answer a question. Tom?
Governor [inaudible 00:14:54] good evening. You mentioned empowering the counties. As you announce this completion of phase one tonight, as you know, Montgomery County has still yet to set a date for its opening. We had an opportunity to question the county executive Mr. Elrich today, and he again declined to set that date, despite the fact that his own health officer said significant progress had been made on metrics, and they are moving forward in the right direction. As I’m sure you’re aware, on Monday in a newspaper story, the county executive had said he was hung out to dry on this issue of local jurisdiction, in regards to reopening. We asked him today, how can you say you were left holding the bag when you’ve asked to hold the bag? And he said he wanted, and this is his words, magic words from you to explain to his constituents why he was making these decisions and why the metrics were different in this county. Can you say something to Maryland county residents tonight about what’s going on in their county, in regards to reopening? And at any point, would you step in and withdraw that [inaudible 00:07:07]?
Larry Hogan: (16:08)
Well, I don’t have any magic words, but we’ve been working, I think, very well with our local leaders. And our plan, which we rolled out quite a while ago now, called for flexibility in working with the various counties, knowing that different counties were in different points and were being affected differently. The county leaders, we were having weekly calls, the county leaders begged for and requested that flexibility and the decision making ability on their individual counties, which we gave them. And then some of them seem to say we shouldn’t have given them what they asked for.
Larry Hogan: (16:48)
Look, I don’t want to criticize any of the county leaders. I know they all have very difficult jobs. As I mentioned earlier, Montgomery County and Prince George’s County are higher than the state average. Baltimore County and Baltimore City are below. But Montgomery County, Prince George’s County particularly is challenged. And Montgomery County is higher. So I’m hopeful that the county executive there will listen to all the best advice, follow the numbers, and make the decisions that are right for his county. I don’t know that he’s aware of the latest information. This is new CDC guidelines. The fact that that his positivity rates have dropped by 53%.
Larry Hogan: (17:28)
There seems to be some confusion. The county leaders aren’t really paying attention to the state plan. They’re kind of making up their own metrics. I heard one of the county executives say our number of cases is continuing to increase, and we can’t do anything until that goes down for 14 days. Cases are going to go up every single day, until we have a vaccine. I’ve said the case numbers… As we test 300,000 people every day, you’re going to get additional cases. That’s not really what we look at. What we look at is the hospitalizations, the ICUs, and these positivity rates, which all of which are-
Larry Hogan: (18:03)
… the ICUs and these positivity rates, all of which are trending in the right direction, including Prince George’s, Montgomery County. They’re doing great. They started out in a really bad place, but they’re all following the same trend of downward, cut in half. So I think they ought to move forward.
Just one thing. Do you think Prince George’s County, is it time for them now?
Larry Hogan: (18:22)
I think Angela Alsobrooks has announced that June 1st they will be moving into Stage 1, and I think she made that decision based on all the best information in her county.
Larry Hogan: (18:32)
Montgomery, I don’t think he didn’t. I didn’t hear what his announcement was. I believe the Mayor of Baltimore has taken some steps towards Stage 1. I think Angela Alsobrooks, County Executive of Prince George’s, has announced that on Monday she will move into Stage 1. I believe Montgomery now is the only one who has not set a date, and they probably need to.
[crosstalk 00:18:54] … right around the state, down the hill here, Ocean City, elsewhere, big crowds of people. We did just get a two-day uptick in the hospitalizations. Are you concerned that behavior over the last couple of weeks is harming the trend?
Larry Hogan: (19:14)
Well, so I mentioned a few moments ago in my remarks that there are some people that are not taking it as seriously as they should, and some people’s behavior that is reckless. The vast majority of people are really paying attention, they’re being thoughtful, they are being careful. But I was a little bit shocked to see some of the photographs or the video of people on the boardwalk in Ocean City with some of those crowds, which didn’t appear to be too safe to me.
Larry Hogan: (19:43)
And I think the mayor of Ocean City, I believe, is trying to take some measures. They put signage and they had police officers that were trying to create more distance. But I think they’re going to be taking some additional steps to try to be more careful, but you can’t control everyone’s individual behavior. We can continue to strongly urge them and they have to take more steps to be safe.
Larry Hogan: (20:03)
But for the most part, I think, people were generally pretty good on the two days. One or two days does not make a trend. That’s why we look at our plan says 14 days, the new CDC guidelines talks about seven-day averages. It’s why I said we want to keep watching this into next week. If those two days become a solid week of numbers going up, then it’s a concern. Let’s slow things down. If it’s just a blip and everything else continues to go down, as it has consistently, then we’ll be ready to continue to take steps to move forward. Yes sir?
I have a question getting back to the numbers and the data and the …
Larry Hogan: (20:41)
Sorry. It might’ve covered up my hand.
… the cases of the people who died from coronavirus
Larry Hogan: (20:44)
Have you had a chance to look at any numbers in terms of a breakdown of the COVID-19 deaths in Maryland, according to preexisting diseases? I ask because of the UK, for example, there’s been a stunning research that showed a large number of their deaths, people had diabetes, there’s obesity was a factor. Have you seen any sort of trends or numbers so far as far as Maryland?
Larry Hogan: (21:08)
There’s no question that the death rates are much higher for people that are older and that have underlying conditions. I don’t know the exact stats today, but there’s no question that healthy, stronger, younger people, while they’re not immune, their death rates are much lower, and that people that are older and/or that have some of these underlying conditions are much more vulnerable. So that’s what I’d mentioned earlier, as we open up things, those types of people and the people that live with them or that are around them, if you’re with a somebody in your family that’s one of those categories, you’ve got to be particularly careful.
But no specific underlying condition that you’ve see so far?
Larry Hogan: (21:45)
Any particular? I think there are a whole number of underlying conditions that cause you to be more vulnerable, but no one that really stands out.
Governor. [inaudible 00:03:54]. real quick. In terms of the original question of responsibility, and you mentioned this was probably disheartening to see. I know you don’t want state police or law enforcement, you don’t want to galvanize a rescue, but should there be some type of penalty if some people aren’t following the CDC guidelines in the other cities?
Larry Hogan: (22:19)
So when people are violating the law or any of the orders, there are penalties and guidelines on the guidelines, the CDC guidelines, and the things that we’re recommending, then people are not going to be punished for not following the recommended guidelines. They’re just, some of their other folks that are there with them, may try to explain to them that they should be.
Governor, today Secretary Churchill from the Department of General Services, an extended committee, talking about the five thousand test kits that you procured, saying that he had received no other requests for procurements for the components of that test kit. Has the Department of Health ordered any additional components for those tests kits? What components and when can we expect to see those?
Larry Hogan: (23:08)
I don’t know exactly what the question was, but that’s not completely accurate. I didn’t listen to the testimony. When I announced the acquisition of … It’s not 5,000, it’s 500,000 … I said, Luke is sitting here in the front row, asked the question, I said, this is one important part of a longterm testing strategy, that it was only part of it, that there were still nine components missing, that we needed to have swabs and transport tubes and reagents and lab capacity and all these things.
Larry Hogan: (23:47)
That was a month ago, and we’ve been in the process of acquiring all of those things. We announced two weeks ago that we got swabs and the transport tubes from the federal government finally. We created our own reagents and we’re ramping up lab capacity.
Larry Hogan: (24:02)
Matter of fact, this week, the University of Maryland lab that we invested in is beginning to, they aren’t quite up to full capacity yet, but they’re just, we haven’t even announced it yet, they’re now processing and beginning to process those tests. But yeah, there are multiple components, as I announced, and we’ve been acquiring them all over the past month since I announced.
But when can you see them?
Larry Hogan: (24:25)
When can you see what?
When will we see that these kits are being actually used?
Larry Hogan: (24:30)
So we just reached 10,000 tests a day, 300,000. It was part of a longterm strategy. You won’t actually see them because they’ll be in the lab, which we’re now opening, that we’re building. They go to the lab facility. There’s some misnomer. We keep saying, “When are we going to get them out in our county?” They’re never going to go to a county.
[crosstalk 00:24:47] … question. When will the lab see them?
Larry Hogan: (24:49)
The lab has them now. They’re now processing them.
And they’re processing and then using the test kits?
Larry Hogan: (24:54)
Yes, they are.
Governor, we had 50 new deaths announced today.
Larry Hogan: (25:01)
I can hear you.
50 new deaths announced today. Maybe people are still concerned that the state is reopening too quickly at the expense of public health [crosstalk 00:25:11]. It seems like that from public health experts. What do you say to people who think we’re moving too quickly?
Larry Hogan: (25:18)
Well, I understand. Some people believe that we’re moving too quickly and some people believe we’re moving too slowly. We have a plan, which was put together with a coronavirus recovery team made up of some of the smartest doctors and scientists we have in the state and in America. And they believe that we’re going about it the right way.
Larry Hogan: (25:39)
There was a Washington Post poll last week that said 85% of Marylanders believe we’re handling it about the right way. Some people, there’s certainly five or 10% that think we’re going too slow, and five or 10% maybe think we’re moving too fast, but most people think we’re going about right.
Larry Hogan: (25:56)
And I understand there’s going to be criticism on both sides and we’re not going to make everybody happy, but we’re taking the best advice we can. We’re following all of those various guidelines. We developed the plan, we’re following the plan, and we think we’ve got it about right.
[crosstalk 00:26:11] … the revenue that the state as been losing through all of this, is it better or worse than what you initially thought or what you initially projected? You’ve been concerned about it ever since the beginning. Are you more concerned now, less concerned?
Larry Hogan: (26:26)
It’s a great question. So the comptroller did some revenue losses, projections, for the fiscal year that’s ending July 1, and it’s not going to be as bad of a loss by July 1 as he had anticipated. However, the longterm loss, I believe, is going to be higher than most people anticipate. We had all the governors, we had an NGA call with the head of Moody’s Analytics a week or so ago with all of the nation’s governors, who said that state governments should anticipate a 30% drop in revenues next year.
Larry Hogan: (27:03)
Governments should anticipate a 30% drop in revenues next year. That’s pretty dramatic. And I think if you look at the state of New Jersey, Governor Phil Murphy, democratic governor of New Jersey last week cut his budget by $10 billion. And his budget’s about the same size as ours.
Speaker 2: (27:18)
Why aren’t any of your public health advisors here today or the last press conference? And did your advisory team unanimously support the state’s moving fully into phase one?
Larry Hogan: (27:28)
Yeah. I’m not sure why the folks are not here other than we’re limiting the number of people in the room. And if one of you guys wants to give up your seat, we’ll bring some of them in. And yes, the coronavirus recovery team has unanimously supported these moves.
Speaker 2: (27:46)
Governor, I have an unemployment question. Speaking about the lost revenue, as you know, a lot of our outlets have been inundated with stories from people, heartbreaking stories of people not being able to get their own employment. We’ve heard these stories about the backlogs, the wait times. Can you update us on what’s going on with unemployment? Has any capacity been added to the system to deal with this backlog?
Larry Hogan: (28:08)
Yeah, this problem of unemployment is the one that is extremely difficult because so many people are really suffering. And it frustrates the heck out of me when you can’t immediately get people the money that they really need. Not all of it is something we can fix though, unfortunately because this is a federal program, it’s new, and it’s been very complex and hard to implement. And so we created a website, one of the first in the country, now though I think maybe 20 states have them. Ours was the only one really functioning. It wasn’t functioning very well the first three or four days. Had like nine hour waits and we were 180,000 people in line. About three days later, that was fixed and you had one minute waits.
Larry Hogan: (28:57)
But as I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, the website isn’t the issue. It’s a federal program. They’ve changed guidelines at the federal level 12 times since the program came out a few weeks ago. We have been able to process, I think 400,000 claims, hundreds of millions of dollars to help people. Unfortunately, the federal requirements require people to refile every week. So I’ve heard people say, “Well, I got it the first week, but I didn’t get it the second week.”
Larry Hogan: (29:22)
Well, federal law requires you to go back on every week, which creates tremendous difficulties. The website is handling most people, but there’s going to be a certain percentage of people, and out of the 400,000 people got paid, a hundred and some thousand couldn’t handle it on the website. They have to talk to a live human being, not just somebody to answer the phone, but a real professional that understands the complexities of the federal law and can help them because otherwise they automatically get rejected.
Larry Hogan: (29:51)
If they don’t check all these things, they don’t get paid. So we have 250 extra people working in there. We brought in 450 extra phone lines, working around the clock, rebuilt the website. It’s still not helping everybody. And the sad reality is, there are a lot of people … I don’t know what the percentage is statewide, I mean nationwide, but I think around 20% of people just don’t qualify so they’re not going to get paid.
Larry Hogan: (30:16)
So the questions are, why haven’t you fixed unemployment? Why haven’t we all got our checks? Well, because federal law won’t allow us to pay them. And because they couldn’t go on the site and get it done and they have to talk to person and people haven’t been able to resolve all their claims. But a huge chunk of them, I don’t know what the percentage is, sadly, are not going to get the checks ever because the federal government won’t pay them.
I just want to clarify the stage one and stage two. And I understand the roadmap is kind of a work in progress. It’s not definitive, but a couple of the things you mentioned, the camps and childcare type things, and restaurants are in stage two or the medium risk category. So I anticipate people will say, “Well, hey, what about social gatherings? My gym class, my aerobics class …” So we haven’t officially entered stage two. And can you give us a date of when that might happen? Two weeks from now?
Larry Hogan: (31:10)
So, yeah, it’s a great question, Kate. It’s a little confusing. Some of the things we did partial. We’re not opening up day camps and we’re not fully opening pools. We’re not fully opening restaurants, but in stage one, we were able to partially do something. Let’s let kids in small groups go outside and play, be part of this. Let’s let people in the pool as long as they’re safe. Let’s let them do dining outside, but not inside. Same thing many other states have done. Stage two I said, we may be able to move forward into that as soon as next week, if we continue to see the positive numbers.
Larry Hogan: (31:45)
The fact that hospitalizations as Brad pointed out, went up two days was a little bit of a, “Hey, let’s wait and see what that does.” If they keep going up, it’s a concern. If they come back down and the trend is still down, we’re in a much better position. So there’s no exact date. We didn’t say we’re going to do it by this date because part of it is watching those trends and those numbers and running it by our coronavirus recovery team, “Are we safe to do this now? Do you believe now that we’ve done this and this and this, can we now move onto this?”
Larry Hogan: (32:14)
And we have really smart guys, ladies and men that tell us and advise us and they say, “We believe you can do these things now.” Or, “Hey, we have a rush on the hospitals. Our numbers are changing. Let’s put the brakes on a little bit.” Thank you all very much.