Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said that while key coronavirus metrics remain low, he is worried about slight upticks in infection rates and hospitalizations for people under 35 years old.
Hogan said in a news conference Wednesday that there are concerning trends his office is monitoring.
The coronavirus positivity rates among Marylanders under 35 is higher than the rates for those 35 and older. The positivity rate for 35 and older peaked April 17 at 29%. Currently, it is down 88% at 3.5%.
The positivity rate for those under 35 peaked May 5 at 24.4%, and it has also dropped significantly by 73%, but not as fast, and has recently seen a slight uptick in the wrong direction, Hogan said.
The low among that age group was seen last week at 6.1%. It’s now up 6.5%
Another slight uptick was recorded in COVID-19 hospitalizations in recent days.
Hogan said data shows that some of the increase in hospitalizations are also younger patients, who are not as sick as those older, more vulnerable and more serious patients. That’s why the number of ICU beds in use remains low.
Hogan also said that he is concerned with reports of shortages and delays in testing across the country.
“We are concerned that the administration in Washington is actually attempting to cut federal funding for testing at a time when it is so critically important in our ability to get a handle on the spread,” Hogan said.
“I’ve been clear about disagreeing with the president,” Hogan said when asked if he has gotten everything he needs. He said that the Trump administration has done well when it comes to obtaining personal protective equipment and its use of the Defense Production Act.
There has been some improvement, but with coronavirus numbers rising again, “We don’t have all the things we need,” Hogan said.
Testing and contact tracing are key to limiting spread, and Hogan encouraged people to cooperate with contact tracing efforts and answer their phones if they get a call from MD COVID.
Hogan said contact tracers have successfully communicated with 75% of those entered in COVID-LINK, the state’s data management system. The number of people reached is not higher because some people are not answering the call and in some other cases refusing to cooperate or participate in the efforts.
“This is critical to helping identify those who may be infected and to helping us stop this spread,” Hogan said. He is pleading with Marylanders to answer the call from MD COVID.
On whether he would consider a statewide mask requirement, Hogan said that with declining numbers, he does not believe based on facts that it is necessary.
“If we start to see this spike up again, I won’t hesitate to take actions that are necessary,” Hogan said.
State Superintendent Karen Salmon said that what happens in school buildings is an “essential part of our children’s development in so many levels — academic, social-emotional and nutritional. These can never be fully replaced by a virtual environment.”
However, she said the imminent health and safety of students and staff must be prioritized.
Maryland State Education Association President Cheryl Bost said in response to the news conference that virtual learning is “not a perfect solution, but it’s the safest and focusing on just one mode of education enables educators to direct their total attention to making it more rigorous and equitable.”
“We urge more systems to do the same for at least the first semester,” Bost said in a statement.
School systems have until Aug. 14 to develop and submit education recovery plans for the state board to review.
Protocols and guidelines the state will institute must be met. Local school systems may choose how they want to start the school year in consultation with their health departments, but these state guardrails must be met:
- All school systems must follow Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, which stress the importance of social distancing, handwashing and cloth face coverings.
- All school systems must adhere to protocols instituted by state officials for addressing an outbreak, which include communication, a process in place for notification and working with local health officials for contact tracing.
- All school systems must meet a series of benchmarks, including incorporation of equity in the education recovery plan, identifying learning gaps and maintaining curricular frameworks, among others.
Salmon also spoke on funds that have been committed to education. She said $100 million has been allocated to address the digital divide that will equip students with up-to-date devices; another $100 million is invested in tutoring programs that would address learning loss; $10 million is allocated to increase broadband access in rural areas.
More than $255 million in coronavirus relief bill funding has been allocated for education priorities, Salmon said.
Elections and mail-in ballots
Hogan took the opportunity to address his concern about what he said was a lack of progress and preparation by the Maryland State Board of Elections.
He said he wanted to set the record straight, and said that Comptroller Peter Franchot described the primary election last June as an “unmitigated disaster.”
Hogan said during the primary election, there was no early voting and very few polls were open. There was mail-in voting, but Hogan said some voters did not receive ballots or got wrong ones, causing long lines at open polls.
Hogan said the state board of elections has yet to come up with answers on what happened, and since then, the situation has descended into a partisan argument.
Hogan asked that politics be set aside and follow advice of health experts and existing state laws, which require open poling places.
Hogan said he has required the state board to immediately mail applications for absentee ballots, and he is encouraging everyone to vote by mail and to vote early. And on Election Day, as the law requires in Maryland, the polls will be open, Hogan said.
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