Md. legislators receiving COVID vaccine under ‘Continuity of Government’ provision

Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles) receives a vaccine in the Miller Office Building in Annapolis. (Photo submitted to Maryland Matters)

Maryland lawmakers who wanted a COVID-19 vaccine were able to get one beginning this week.

They are eligible because Phase 1B of the state’s vaccination protocol has a “continuity of government” provision that includes members of the General Assembly. Maryland entered Phase 1C on Jan. 25.

“We’re a constitutional part of government, and we are there for continuity of government,” said Senate Minority Whip Michael J. Hough (R-Frederick and Carroll). “We’re down here. We’ve got to approve the state budget, and we’re approving the governor’s relief package.”

“So we’re doing things that are very important for the citizens of Maryland during this pandemic.”

It’s unclear how many lawmakers availed themselves of the opportunity to get vaccines — or plan to do so in the coming days. Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City) did not give a figure on the total number of legislators vaccinated during a virtual press gaggle on Friday. Several officials acknowledged, in interviews this week, that some members of the public may find it objectionable that legislators are able to get vaccinated when the state’s supply of doses is low.

“It was something I thought a lot about,” Ferguson said. “My parents have not been able to get a vaccine — and they’ve asked where they can go, and they’re frustrated.”

A self-described healthy 37-year-old male, Ferguson said he “really struggled on should I move forward with this.”

“At the end of the day, I went back to what we’ve been saying from the beginning, [which] is we have to follow the guidance of health experts,” he said.

Although the House of Delegates is meeting virtually, with most lawmakers remaining in their districts, Senators are in Annapolis. Plexiglass barriers were installed around senators’ desks for the twice-a-week floor sessions and senators are attending online meetings from their offices. Everyone at the State House complex is required to wear masks at all times.

“We should have gotten this vaccine as soon as it came out,” said Sen. Arthur Ellis (D-Charles). “It’s just ridiculous that we’ve had to wait until the end of January to get this vaccine.”

“We are doing something, in the Senate of Maryland, that the governor ordered Marylanders not to do — and that’s gather in mass gatherings,” Ellis added.

“It’s a petri dish for potential contamination,” he added. “So anyone who’s saying that politicians are always stepping forward, you go in a room of like 100 people and tell me how you feel.”

House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) said she was vaccinated in a video she posted online Friday.

“I trust the science,” Jones said. “And I received the vaccine because it’s a safe, effective way to help us all get back to normal.”

Access to the State House complex is severely limited due to the pandemic, and those who do enter must answer health questions. Lawmakers and key staff undergo frequent COVID-19 testing.

Some lawmakers are being vaccinated at a clinic being operated out of Miller East, a large conference room in the Miller Senate Office Building.

Ferguson told reporters on Friday that “several” staff members have tested positive since the General Assembly convened earlier this month. He said that contact tracing revealed there had been “no community spread on campus.”

The staffers who tested positive are in quarantine, he said.

Hough said he — like Ellis — was prepared to weather any criticism that might come from his access to the vaccine, in part because the sooner lawmakers are protected from the virus, the sooner they can dive into their work.

“What’s being inhibited is the ability to sit down and talk through bills and work through details,” he said. “So much of our work gets worked out sitting around the table talking to each other, one-on-one, compromise. You can’t do that when you’re not talking to each other.”

A top aide to Rep. Alex Mooney (R-West Virginia), Hough was vaccinated in Washington, D.C.

Sen. Cheryl C. Kagan (D-Montgomery) got vaccinated on Friday.

“I expect to be a role model,” she said. “I hope to be able to show anyone who is nervous about getting the vaccine that I have confidence in our health care workers and in our scientists.”

Members of the Maryland’s judiciary, who are part of Phase 1A, were eligible to get vaccinated as soon as the state began receiving doses.

Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) was vaccinated on Jan. 18. First Lady Yumi Hogan, Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford (R), his wife Monica, and Dr. Jinlene Chan, the top public health official at the Maryland Department of Health, received their first doses the same day.

On Friday, Hogan and Baltimore Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) kicked off a “confidence campaign” at Oriole Park.

Called “GoVax Maryland,” the campaign features a variety of leaders — including several people of color — talking about the importance of getting vaccinated.

Among those featured in a new YouTube video are Gov. and Mrs. Hogan; Rutherford; U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams; UMBC President Dr. Freeman Hrabowski and Retired Vice President of T. Rowe Price Jacqueline C. Hrabowski; Delegate Joseline Peña-Melnyk (D-Prince George’s & Anne Arundel); Bishop Walter Scott Thomas of New Psalmist Baptist Church; Rev. Matthew Watley and Shawna Watley of Kingdom Fellowship AME Church; and Dr. Kathleen Page, Associate Professor of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

As the state’s supply increases, other “influencers” will be urged to get the vaccine and to post photos of themselves online. The state will conduct “pop-up clinics” outside churches in communities where vaccination rates are low.

Not all elected officials who are eligible now are seeking vaccines.

Speaking on WAMU’s Kojo Nnamdi Show, Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said Friday he would not get the vaccine until “all” frontline health care workers and people 75 and over have had theirs.

“I don’t do anything to put myself at risk. I don’t need the vaccine now and there are people who are much more important to Montgomery County than me.”

This article was written by WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters and republished with permission. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

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