Citing improving COVID-19 metrics across the board, Gov. Larry Hogan said that hospitals and nursing homes can begin easing visitation restrictions and pledged to help school systems reopen by providing testing and additional personal-protective equipment.
In a wide-ranging press conference Thursday afternoon from the State House, Hogan made an array of announcements to address the pandemic and expressed frustration at the limited vaccine supply that is preventing the state's rollout from revving into high gear.
"We are doing vaccinations currently at more than double the current supply that we are being given, and we have built an infrastructure that is able to administer anywhere from 50,000 to 100,000 shots per day as soon as they are made by the manufacturers and allocated to us by the federal government," Hogan (R) said.
Earlier in the day, at her weekly press briefing about the vaccine rollout, County Executive Jan Gardner (D) echoed those remarks.
"Frederick County is ready to deliver vaccine as soon as we receive it. We simply need more vaccine," Gardner said. "Our public health officials have requested more vaccine and have specifically requested an allocation of doses for our educators. When more vaccine becomes available, vaccine clinics will be expanded to more locations, including a drive-through option."
So far, the state has administered more than 785,000 doses of the two-shot coronavirus vaccine from approved manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna. That includes 587,180 first doses and 197,990 second doses.
In Frederick County, 27,721 first doses and 7,905 second doses have been delivered into arms.
However, roughly 2.1 million Maryland residents are eligible to receive the vaccine under Hogan's directives, and the limited supply has led to widespread confusion and frustration for those eligible who are trying to get appointments.
That eligibility expanded this week in Frederick County to those who are 65-and-older.
"We don't have a regular cadence of delivery of vaccine. So, we are trying to schedule appointments before it actually arrives," Gardner said.
Hogan is set to participate in an Oval Office meeting Friday with President Joe Biden to discuss vaccine distribution and the proposed $1.9 trillion coronavirus relief bill.
The governor said he would urge Biden to make use of the Defense Production Act to increase vaccine production and coordinate more closely with states in terms of the allocations being distributed straight from the federal government to vaccine providers.
Hogan said county leaders will now be receiving four-week projections for vaccine allotments, which is better than the two-week projections the federal government is currently providing to the states.
However, Hogan warned that demand for the vaccine will far surpass the available supply for the foreseeable future, even with more vaccine candidates on the cusp of receiving approval from the Food and Drug Administration.
"The basic problem is pretty simple. We need more damn vaccines," he said. "If I needed to drain the entire rainy-day fund to buy vaccines for every eligible Marylander, I would do so today. Unfortunately, we have no control whatsoever over this supply problem. Only the federal government can buy the vaccines, and only the federal government can send us the vaccines."
Despite the slow pace of the rollout, Hogan pointed to improving coronavirus metrics across the state. He said the rate of new cases has fallen sharply over the last month, and the statewide positivity rate (5.08 percent) is as low as it has been since early November.
Overall, hospitalizations in Maryland have fallen in each of the last four weeks and are now at their lowest levels since before Thanksgiving, Hogan said. He also noted that the seven-day average for coronavirus deaths has decreased by 26 percent over the last two weeks.
"We are pushing back against this invisible enemy, and we are making great progress," the governor said.
In response to the improving metrics, Hogan announced that hospitals and nursing homes will be allowed to resume limited in-person visitations provided they adhere to strict guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
While hospitals set their own visitation guidelines, nursing homes can resume indoor visitation on March 1 provided the facility does not have an active case and is following testing protocols.
Hogan said that all Maryland nursing home residents and staff have been offered a vaccine, and the clinics at nursing homes and assisted-living facilities across the state are largely complete.
In order to help get kids back into schools, the governor said that the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland State Department of Education will provide nearly one million COVID-19 tests to local school systems, both private and public, between now and the end of June at no charge.
Additionally, the state will provide an unlimited supply of personal protective equipment to all schools, Hogan said.
The governor has encouraged all school systems to bring back students for in-person learning. He said more guidance is coming Friday from the CDC in order to safely do so.
So far, 22 of 24 Maryland school systems have already resumed in-person learning or agreed to do so by March 1, Hogan said. Frederick County Public Schools is planning to bring students back into classrooms next week.
"I want to commend all of the teachers, administrators, parents and public-health officials who are doing everything they can to give Maryland students the chance to get back safely into the classrooms," Hogan said.
Notes: Hogan announced that a mass vaccination site will open Feb. 25 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, which will join already running mass vaccination sites at the Baltimore Convention Center and the Six Flags America amusement park in Prince George's County. The governor announced the formation of the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force, which will address vaccine distribution in critical populations and minority communities.