ANNAPOLIS, MD—Governor Larry Hogan on Wednesday evening provided an update to Marylanders on the state’s ongoing COVID-19 response and recovery, stressing the need for continued caution and vigilance. The governor was joined by Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) State Superintendent Dr. Karen Salmon, who announced that MSDE will extend flexibility to local school systems to determine re-openings while instituting guardrails and protocols for in-person instruction.
“I want to make very clear to the people of Maryland again that this crisis is not over and your actions may help determine whether we see a resurgence of the virus here in Maryland,” said Governor Hogan. “As we have from the beginning, we will continue to follow the advice of our doctors and public health experts, and we will not hesitate to take statewide actions if and when we deem them to be necessary.”
SCHOOLS UPDATE. Dr. Salmon announced that local school systems will have the flexibility to determine, in consultation with their local health officers, how they will open and which groups of students and staff will be able to re-enter school buildings. Depending on conditions in their locality, school systems may be more restrictive than the requirements outlined in the state’s recovery plan.
“We want to get our students back to school as soon as possible for in-person instruction, and this should be the driving goal and the basis for all of our decisions,” said Dr. Salmon. “However, the imminent safety and health of students and staff must, and always will be, the first priority.”
Within the framework of local control, MSDE will set a series of guardrails for school systems:
- All systems must follow CDC guidelines for schools, which stress the importance of hand-washing, physical distancing, and cloth face coverings. Face coverings must be worn by all staff and students, particularly when physical distancing is not possible. CDC director Robert Redfield said Wednesday that he would “absolutely” send his grandchildren back to school in the fall amid concerns about the pandemic.
- All school systems must adhere to protocols instituted by state health officials for addressing an outbreak. Schools should provide written notification and next steps to all identified contacts. Schools should follow instructions from the local health department for all matters regarding quarantine, exclusion, and return to school for persons with a positive test for COVID-19 and those who had close contact.
- All school systems must meet a series of benchmarks before reopening:
- Incorporate equity as a component in the local recovery plan;
- Establish local education recovery stakeholder groups;
- Identify learning gaps and instructional placement of students;
- Follow and maintain curricular frameworks and Maryland College and Career Ready Standards;
- Adhere to components of IDEA, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act, and ADA;
- Adopt and follow health procedures outlined by the MSDE, MDH, and CDC, including cleaning and sanitizing;
- Ensure safe transportation for all students;
- Develop a system for tracking attendance; and
- Follow the Maryland Public Secondary Sports Athletic Association guidance for interscholastic athletics and activities.
COVID-19 UPDATES. Unlike many states across the nation, Maryland’s COVID-19 positivity rate continues to remain low and stable. The statewide seven-day positivity rate is now 4.49%, a decline of nearly 83% since it peaked at 26.91% on April 17.
Testing. In total, Maryland has now conducted 1,000,179 COVID-19 tests and is consistently reporting roughly 20,000 tests every day. 20 out of the state’s 24 jurisdictions have met the goal of testing at least 10% of their population.
The dramatic rise in infection rates in other states has significantly increased the national demand for testing and caused delays of up to 10 days at commercial labs across the country, including in Maryland. In response, the governor announced the following:
- The LabGun COVID-19 test kits acquired from LabGenomics, a South Korean company, continue to be the centerpiece of the state’s long-term testing strategy.
- Last month, the state opened a signature lab at the University of Maryland, Baltimore, which is now staffed up and fully operational to utilize the LabGenomics tests. Unlike many commercial labs, this facility is reporting test results in just 24-48 hours and utilizing several thousand tests per day.
- The state is on track to have an adequate supply of tests through the end of November, in accordance with Maryland’s long-term testing strategy, but is prepared to take additional actions, if necessary, in response to outbreaks, shortages, and delays in other states.
Out-of-State Travel. State health officials are closely monitoring spiking numbers in states across the region and states further south and west of Maryland’s borders.
- Marylanders should refrain from traveling to areas that are experiencing rapidly escalating numbers. Anyone who does travel out of state should immediately get tested and self-quarantine while awaiting test results.
Safer At Home Guidance. The governor continues to advise Marylanders to heed all state and local public health guidance:
- Wear masks or face coverings in public areas, businesses, and on public transportation.
- All Marylanders are still safer at home, particularly older and more vulnerable populations.
- Employers should continue to encourage telework for their employees whenever possible.
- Do not use public transportation unless it is absolutely necessary.
- Practice physical distancing, staying six feet apart when possible, and avoiding all large gatherings.
Local Enforcement. The governor continued to press local leaders to actively and aggressively enforce the public health measures already in place, especially in bars and restaurants across their counties, and commended Montgomery County for cracking down on those businesses that were flagrantly violating health orders.
It is the responsibility of county officials to get their local health departments, local liquor boards and inspectors, and local law enforcement agencies to work together to enforce the following:
- Bars and restaurants in Maryland are permitted to be open for seated service only, with strict physical distancing and capacity restrictions.
- Customers must be seated at least 6-feet apart from other guests.
- Standing in bar areas is strictly prohibited.
Contact Tracing. The governor again reminded Marylanders that contact tracing is key to stopping the spread of COVID-19. Maryland’s contact tracing operation has increased by 440% since its launch in April.
- From June 11 to July 18, the state’s contact tracers consistently conducted outreach to more than 80% of confirmed COVID-19 cases within 24 hours of the case being entered into COVIDLink, Maryland’s state-of-the-art data management platform.
- Contact tracers have been successful in reaching nearly 75% percent of cases.
- Marylanders are encouraged to cooperate with the state’s contact tracing efforts by answering calls from ‘MD COVID,’ or (240) 466-4888. Learn more about COVIDLink and contact tracing in Maryland here.
ELECTION UPDATE. Governor Hogan addressed concerns about the State Board of Elections’ preparations for the November general election, which will follow CDC guidance and give voters as many options as possible, including early voting and absentee voting by mail. The governor called on leaders in both parties to join him in strongly encouraging Marylanders to vote by mail.