Sep 1, 2020
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan Press Conference Transcript September 1
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan held a press conference on September 1 to provide coronavirus updates. Read the transcript of the briefing here.
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Governor Larry Hogan: (00:00)
Good afternoon. Joining me is Secretary Kelly Schulz Of The Maryland Department Of Commerce.
Governor Larry Hogan: (00:24)
Good afternoon, everybody. Today, the State Board of Education voted to require school systems that have not developed a plan for returning any students for any in-person instruction until 2021 to go back and reevaluate their reopening plans by the end of the first quarter.
Governor Larry Hogan: (00:50)
Last week, as a result of our dramatically improved health metrics, we announced that every county school system in Maryland was authorized to begin the process of safely reopening. We made clear that the legal authority and the final decision-making on these safe openings rests with the county boards of educations. Back in May, Dr. Karen Salmon and the Maryland State Department of Education published their recovery plan for education, and began a meeting with county boards of ed, local school superintendents, teachers, parents, and other key stakeholders, to collaborate on safe and effective recovery plans for all of our Maryland Public Schools. Local school systems were required to have these recovery plans completed, posted on their websites, and submitted to the state two weeks ago, on August 14th. The State Board of Education met last week, August 24th, to carefully review those plans. In response, in less than 48 hours, we held our press conference and announced at the request of some of those local school boards, a new set of statewide guidelines and metrics.
Governor Larry Hogan: (02:21)
Sixteen of the jurisdictions, two-thirds of our county school systems, did develop and submit plans, which did include returning children to the schools for some in-person instruction this fall. Eight counties did not submit any reopening plans that even attempted to bring any kids into any classrooms for the entire year. I want to thank the State Board of Education for their vote today, which calls on those counties to at least go back and reevaluate their modes of instruction before the end of the year.
Governor Larry Hogan: (03:05)
There was also some confusion yesterday, here in Anne Arundel County, about allowing kids to play youth sports. The County executive apparently tried to pass the buck on youth sports. But let me make it very clear, 81 days ago, on June 12th, the State of Maryland, through the Maryland Department of Health, issued an order allowing for all youth sports in Maryland to resume. County governments, of course, by law, do have the power to be more restrictive than the state. But it is the position of the State of Maryland, that our young people should have the opportunity to play sports this fall. We are encouraging local health officials to reassess their guidelines.
Governor Larry Hogan: (03:57)
I want to just provide a brief update on the upcoming general election. State Board of Elections has informed us that as of today, they have mailed out the absentee ballot applications to every Maryland voter. This is something that I asked them to immediately do nearly eight weeks ago. We continue to strongly encourage Marylanders to take advantage of voting by absentee ballot, or to participate in early voting. For those who really want to vote in person on election day, we strongly encourage them to do so at off-peak times to avoid crowds and long lines at the polling places. Although local election boards repeatedly said that it would be impossible to get poll workers and poll judges, through our efforts, the efforts of our administration, we have already recruited more than 11,000 Marylanders to sign up to serve as election judges. We are continuing to urge local election boards to immediately contact them and train these election judges and poll workers.
Governor Larry Hogan: (05:15)
I’m pleased to report that our early and aggressive mitigation efforts to fight COVID-19 have been extremely successful, and that we have continued to see declining numbers in all of our key health metrics. Our statewide positivity rate is now down to 3.39%, a decline of more than 87% since it peaked at 26.91%, 137 days ago, on April 17th. Maryland’s positivity rate has now been under 5%, which is the benchmark set by the World Health Organization and the CDC, for 68 consecutive days, since June 25th. It has been under 4% for 24 consecutive days, since August 8th. 15 of our 24 jurisdictions now have positivity rates below 3.5%. Hospitalizations are down more than 77% since they peaked 122 days ago, at 1,711. We have seen a nearly 30% decline in ICU levels since July 25th.
Governor Larry Hogan: (06:38)
We have seen a continued and sustained drop in the cases per 100,000, which is an additional metric now being utilized by Johns Hopkins, the CDC, and the Coronavirus Taskforce. In just the last month alone, our statewide case rate per 100,000 has dropped by 45%. We continue to be in much better shape than the nation, and better than most states across the country. While it is absolutely critical to remain vigilant as we battle this deadly virus, it is also important that we continue to fight to protect and improve our economy, and the health of our small business community, and our struggling Maryland families, by continuing to push to safely reopen our economy and to get more people safely back to work. Unlike many States across the country, we were able to keep more than 70% of our economy open throughout the entire crisis. We have had more than 98% of our economy open since we completed all Stage Two reopenings 74 days ago, on June 19th.
Governor Larry Hogan: (08:01)
Today, I’m pleased to announce that we are able to enter Stage Three of our Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery. Effective this Friday, September 4th, at 5:00 PM, all Maryland businesses will be able to open. Movie theaters and live entertainment venues will be able to begin safely opening at 50% capacity, or up to 100 people at indoor venues, or 250 people at outdoor venues, both with appropriate health and safety guidelines in place. In addition, all retail stores, as well as churches and houses of worship, will be able to increase capacity from 50% to 75%. As we begin to move into Stage Three, the law still empowers individual counties to make decisions that are more restrictive regarding the timing of Stage Three reopenings in their own individual jurisdictions.
Governor Larry Hogan: (09:10)
I want to remind the people of Maryland that moving into Stage Three does not mean that this crisis is behind us, and remind them that we must remain vigilant, so that we can keep Maryland open for business. As we head into the holiday weekend, I want to wish everybody a great holiday. I hope that everyone enjoys some time with their family and friends. But I want to remind them again of something that we brought up maybe a month or so ago. It just came up again with our most recent findings of our contact tracing efforts. The number one activity of those who have tested positive since mid-July, reported by 41% of all those who were interviewed by contract tracers, was attending family gatherings. You hear about things and you think it’s maybe dangerous to go to a restaurant or a bar or some business. But in fact, the number one thing reported is family gatherings.
Governor Larry Hogan: (10:17)
The next highest activity reported of those positive cases, at 19%, were house parties and outdoor events. While we want everybody to enjoy the holiday weekend, we tend to feel safe when we’re around our family and friends, and in fact, that’s when we let our guard down and we don’t do the things that we do when we’re out in stores and out in the places where we’re actually being careful and following all the good advice. So just want to remind them of that.
Governor Larry Hogan: (10:49)
To further enhance our state’s contact tracing efforts, I’m pleased to announce that in collaboration with Apple and Google, Maryland will be one of the first states in the nation to use Exposure Notifications Express, which is a state-of-the-art app that is designed to help public health officials more quickly provide notifications for residents about potential COVID-19 exposure. We look forward to working together with Apple and Google on this exciting opportunity.
Governor Larry Hogan: (11:22)
As we move into this third and final stage of our recovery, I want to again sincerely thank our doctors, our nurses, and public health officials, our small business community, and most importantly, the people of Maryland, who have really pulled together over the past five months to respond to this unprecedented challenge with incredible courage and perseverance. It is thanks to all of you that we have crushed the curve and saved lives, and that our response to this global pandemic continues to serve as an example for the rest of the nation.
Governor Larry Hogan: (12:07)
At this time, I’m going to turn the floor over to Secretary of Commerce, Kelly Schultz, who can provide us with an update on our economic recovery, and on our efforts to keep Maryland open for business. Madame Secretary.
Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schultz: (12:24)
Thank you very much, Governor. It’s a good afternoon, indeed. Thank you.
Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schultz: (12:29)
From the earliest days of the pandemic, the Maryland Department of Commerce has worked to support our businesses through this unprecedented and challenging period. Through our COVID-19 emergency relief programs, we have awarded nearly $175 million in grants and loans to thousands of small businesses in Maryland. We’ve helped them keep their doors open, pay their bills, and keep employees on the payroll. Throughout the reopening process, we have worked closely with our partners in Maryland’s business community, to make sure we help them get back to work in a way that keeps customers and employees safe.
Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schultz: (13:06)
Commerce’s Business Development Team, along with our Tourism Division and our Arts Council, worked with 13 advisory groups from industries including tourism, manufacturing, retailers, restaurants and bars, and attractions, among others, to develop industry-specific guidance and best practices for a safe reopening. These included recommendations for keeping a clean workplace, staggering employee shifts to minimize contact, installing signage or barriers to encourage social distancing, and other crucial steps to help us curb the spread of COVID-19 as the state reopened. This guidance was posted on our Back to Business website, along with the Maryland Strong Back to Business Pledge, that we encouraged businesses to sign and display publicly, so their employees and customers could have the confidence that they were being protected.
Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schultz: (14:03)
We have already gained more than 156,000 jobs during our recovery. Our unemployment rate is below the national average at 7.6% and falling. All Maryland businesses now can safely reopen. We have stayed strong during this pandemic, and we will remain vigilant. We are, in fact, keeping Maryland open for business. Commerce will continue to work closely with our business community to ensure that proper steps are taken to protect the health of employees, of customers, and of all of our Maryland citizens. Thank you, Governor.
Governor Larry Hogan: (14:40)
Thank you. With that, we’d be happy to take some questions. Kate?
Hi. Can you give us a little more information about that Apple/Google notification partnership? Do you have any concerns about privacy or health issues with these big tech companies? How will it help contact tracing?
Governor Larry Hogan: (15:04)
You know, I think you stumped me with the very first question, because I don’t have a lot more information. Unfortunately, the experts on that topic are … I’ll make sure that our comms team follows up with you, and puts you in touch with the experts, who have more detailed information. I don’t think neither Secretary Schultz or I have that information. But we’ll follow up with you right away after the press conference. Angela, will make sure we get you all the details.
Governor Larry Hogan: (15:26)
Thank you. Sorry. I think that’s the first time I didn’t have an answer for a question, ever.
Speaker 4: (15:32)
Governor, are you [inaudible 00:15:33] with the school situation? You alluded to that at the beginning, with some of the counties not submitting plans. A lot of parents say, “Go back to school.” Do you think it’s political? I know you said last week it’s not, but do you think some county execs are pushing back because they don’t agree with you, or [crosstalk 00:15:49]-
Governor Larry Hogan: (15:50)
Well, I’m frustrated. I was simply frustrated with some of the way it was portrayed. For example, last week, we said what I said again today, that we put out a plan saying, “We’d like to you to get some kind of a plan to get some kids back in school sometime this year.” We left it up to them. We didn’t order anybody to do anything. The response was, “Oh my God, he’s ordering us to go back to school right now,” which we didn’t order anybody to do anything. We didn’t say anything about this week. There was a hysteria about, “It was late. It was rushed.” It was within 48 hours of when the plans were reviewed, and it was two weeks after they requested more guidance. We said, “You have 45 days to take a look at it.” So it was a lot of push back, I think from the teacher’s union, and breathless coverage and editorials in the Baltimore Sun.
Governor Larry Hogan: (16:38)
But the fact of the matter is that it’s a careful, important consideration, that we have to listen to teachers and parents and students. Everybody wants to do this as carefully as we can. There’s real opinions on both sides of the issue. I understand that. But I think just not, basically saying “The dog ate my homework and we’re not going to do any plan for the whole year,” was not acceptable. The State Board of Education decided that that was not acceptable. Sixteen, two-thirds of the counties did a great job. It’s just one-third did not. I think now, hopefully, they’ll go back. We’re not rushing anybody into anything. Maybe the first quarter, they won’t be able to make any progress. But hopefully by the second quarter, they will. Because we have some of the best health metrics in the country.
Governor Larry Hogan: (17:25)
I was on the phone with many of my Democratic and Republican governor colleagues across the country, some of whom have health metrics, three, four times worse than ours, and many of them have all their kids back in school already. I talked to one governor yesterday who has. Every kid’s back in school since August 1st. And their health metrics are three times higher than ours.
Speaker 5: (17:44)
Based on health metrics, do you believe that every county can safely move into Stage Three, and do we know that every business can increase capacity limits to 75%?
Governor Larry Hogan: (17:54)
Well, it’s what all of our experts believe. Our numbers, we’re below in every county, all of the metrics that would allow you to move forward. But again, the counties, by law, have the authority to make those decisions. It’s not up to me to decide what they want to do. Erin?
Hi, Governor. In your Roadmap to Recovery, you describe some of the [inaudible 00:18:13] high-risk activities that requires either a widely available FDA-approved vaccine or taking effective therapies, such as [inaudible 00:18:25]. Obviously, we don’t have a vaccine.
Governor Larry Hogan: (18:13)
Could you explain why we’re ready to open these high-risk activities now, in the [crosstalk 00:18:34]-
Governor Larry Hogan: (18:35)
Well, for example, the plan has changed a lot since April, when we put that out. It’s evolved. We’ve already opened a number of Phase Three things in Phase Two, and we did a number of Phase Two things in Phase One. So it’s an evolving process. But I think there’s only five states in the country that don’t have movie theaters open. So when it was written in that plan, I’m not sure. Things have changed since then, and everybody believes that we can do it. We’re doing it with various … The entertainment industry, through Kelly’s work groups, have put together very safe reopening plans. All the States around us have done this already, Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware. We believe we’re able to move safely forward. We’re not opening at full capacity. We’re just slowly entering Phase Three. We’re going to see how that goes before we lift all the safe capacity restrictions and whatnot.
Speaker 7: (19:29)
Governor, [inaudible 00:19:30] letter about eviction assistance and what [inaudible 00:19:33] want to see available, if any, to landlords who may be facing evictions because their tenants aren’t paying rent?
Governor Larry Hogan: (19:43)
The landlords and the tenants on the evictions? Yeah. We were one of the first states in the whole country to put a moratorium on evictions. I signed an executive order back in April, I think, on this topic, because there were a lot of people really impacted. But there’s no question, this impacts both the tenants who are suffering and some landlords, some of whom are not big landlords, but who are families who own a second home, who are also in potentially the process of losing their home. We’re trying to work together and provide relief and help, all of those.
Governor Larry Hogan: (20:18)
But the letter that came from the legislature, I haven’t really read the letter yet. But we already reached out weeks ago to work with the federal government Cares Act funding, to see if we couldn’t get relief, both for our tenants and landlords. The Cares Act, we cannot use Cares Act funding for this. So the question is, where do you come up with the money? The legislature didn’t have any ideas for that. They just said, “Spend several hundred million dollars more.” As usual, they don’t have any suggestions on where we get the money from. We’re in a situation where you have billions of dollars in shortfalls, and we’re looking at cutting things, not adding things. I haven’t had a chance to review any of those proposals yet. Actually they didn’t make a proposal. They just sent a letter to the media.
Speaker 8: (21:00)
[inaudible 00:21:00] out-of-state guidelines for people traveling in and out of, from out-of-state? Are those now lifted? Are those still in place? What’s going on?
Governor Larry Hogan: (21:07)
No, the guidance on some of those states is still in place. We said states that have a very high positivity rate, and I don’t remember the exact number we have, but I think it’s 20%, and there’s still a number of States that have those kinds of numbers, so we still advise people not to travel from those states. We still advise them on a voluntary basis that they should get tested when they return and that they should self-quarantine. We have been removed from everybody’s list, because we’ve fallen below every category on everything, including that one, I think New York and Massachusetts had us on some cases per 100,000, which we’ve now dropped by 45% in 30 days. We were way under 5%, as I mentioned, for the long period of time. There was one metric that somebody was using, and we’re no longer above that metric. But ours is still in place. There sadly are still some states in really bad shape. We’re just happy not to be one of them. We don’t want to become one of them by having people bring it in.
Speaker 9: (22:06)
I had a question about the election. You touched on the State Board of Elections. Do you have confidence? Do you feel more confident now that the State Board and the Director will be able to pull this off successfully? Did they give you any indication of why they waited eight weeks to send out the application letter, and it didn’t just do it when you first directed them to?
Governor Larry Hogan: (22:30)
I’m still concerned about whether or not they’re going to be able to pull it off. We’re going to continue to try to stay on top of them, although they don’t report to us. We don’t really have a lot of oversight authority. I’m going to continue to push to make sure that whatever we can do. For example, we said we wanted them to open more polling places, which they did. We said they need to get poll workers, which we did for them, because they didn’t do it. We said they needed to mail these ballots out. It took them eight weeks. I don’t know why. But finally they’re out. But I’m concerned about crowded polls, and them not responding fast enough. I think we’re going to work with the legislature to continue to stay on top of the Board of Elections, because I’m not completely confident that everything’s going to go smoothly, and we’re going to do everything we can to assist, as we have been.
Speaker 10: (23:23)
Speaker 11: (23:23)
Governor, I have a question about the ongoing investigations into Roy McGrath and the Maryland Environmental Services. I heard your explanation at the previous press conference, but I’m hoping you can respond to a text message that, remember I sent you, that’s now been referred to the committee? In it, he says, “Can you please say something about us accepting severance, that it was okay for me to handle with [inaudible 00:23:49], only with [inaudible 00:23:51].” My question for you, Governor is, he said that you guys had discussed severance and agreed to something. What did you discuss, and what did you agree to?
Governor Larry Hogan: (24:02)
Yeah, we didn’t discuss it, and we didn’t agree to anything. I’m the one that provided that text message, which came from him after the hearings last week, and which I did not respond to. I can’t tell you what the purpose of him sending that text was, but I’m the one that provided it and immediately called my … the Governor’s Counsel, to say, “I’m not sure what this is about, but take a look at this.” You can also look at the other text message I provided, which was to my Chief of Staff, Matt Clark, saying, “How in the heck does somebody get a severance from MES while they’re doing a lateral transfer?” Obviously did not know about it. It was two months after the alleged occurrence, three, two-and-a-half, three months later.
Speaker 11: (24:44)
What was your reaction to getting those messages from him, [inaudible 00:24:49]?
Governor Larry Hogan: (24:49)
I immediately called my counsel and said, “Let me show you this message,” which I couldn’t say what the motivation was. But I’m the one that provided it through the counsel, and ask them to provide it to the Legislature.
Speaker 11: (25:00)
Governor Larry Hogan: (25:03)
I have no more comments about that. Thank you.
Secretary of Commerce Kelly Schultz: (25:06)