In a pre-holiday message designed to prevent a spike in post-holiday coronavirus cases, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) Thursday said the nationwide distribution of COVID-19 vaccines and the progress on Capitol Hill toward passing a COVID-19 relief package are reasons for optimism this holiday season.
“There are rays of hope,” Hogan said during a State House news conference Thursday evening.
But Hogan conceded he was not sure what to make of national media reports Thursday suggesting that some states won’t be receiving all the doses of the COVID-19 vaccines that they were anticipating.
Some of Hogan’s fellow governors told media outlets late Wednesday and Thursday they had been told that their states’ second allotments of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine next week had been reduced, without explanation. The confusion prompted Pfizer, which developed the first COVID-19 vaccine now ticketed for health care workers, first responders, nursing home residents and other frontline workers, to release a statement Thursday afternoon seeking to avoid a panic.
“Pfizer is not having any production issues with our COVID-19 vaccine, and no shipments containing the vaccine are on hold or delayed,” the company’s statement said. “This week, we successfully shipped all 2.9 million doses that we were asked to ship by the U.S. Government to the locations specified by them. We have millions more doses sitting in our warehouse but, as of now, we have not received any shipment instructions for additional doses.”
Hogan at his news conference said the state was trying to get some clarification from the federal government and the company about allotments for Maryland, but pointed out that federal officials planned to provide states with weekly vaccine delivery “projections” every Friday.
“It’s not going to impact our first batches, for the first week or two, which were the only ones that were essentially cast in stone,” he said of the reports of possibly reduced shipments. “…Hopefully, it will not have a big impact on the second round.”
Hogan asserted that every hospital and nursing care facility in the state would have vaccines in hand by next week, if they haven’t received them already.
Hogan used the news conference to announce that he had issued an emergency order to curtail travel in and out of Maryland. Under the order, Marylanders who travel out of state must either receive a negative COVID-19 test result or quarantine for 10 days before returning. The same would be true of out-of-state residents visiting Maryland.
Washington, D.C., Virginia, Delaware and Pennsylvania are exempt from the order — and Hogan said the state won’t aggressively enforce it.
“Our strongest defense against this virus continues to be the vigilance and cooperation of the people of Maryland,” Hogan said, repeating statements from previous news conferences that family gatherings continue to be the worst spreaders of the coronavirus.
“Our theme is home for the holidays,” he said.
Hogan said he has also issued a public health advisory, lowering the limit on group gatherings in the state from 25 to 10.
While Congress continues to debate a COVID-19 aid package — which at the present does not include the $160 billion in direct aid to state, local and tribal governments sought by congressional Democrats — Hogan announced an additional $180 million in emergency state relief for families and small businesses.
The governor also signed an emergency order extending the state’s moratorium on foreclosures to Jan. 31.
The new aid package includes:
- $50 million for hotels and hospitality businesses, which would be paid from the state’s dedicated emergency rapid response fund. It will be distributed by local jurisdictions and can be used for payroll expenses, rent, and utilities.
- $30 million in additional relief for bars and restaurants, bringing to $80 million the total of state aid earmarked for the restaurant industry. Local jurisdictions will also distribute this money and Hogan encouraged local governments to match this investment where possible.
- $15 million in additional relief for entertainment venues, which will be distributed through the state’s Main Street program at the Maryland Department of Housing, which brings that total to $35 million.
- $5 million for rural businesses, especially tech businesses in the state’s rural counties.
- $40 million to boost the state’s Temporary Cash Assistance benefit. This will boost a recipient’s monthly benefit by $100 for each of the next six months — and should reach more than 66,000 needy Maryland families, Hogan said.
- $40 million extra for disability care providers. This will be achieved by beginning a scheduled 4% increase in state reimbursements on Jan. 1, six months ahead of schedule.
Hogan said he also would push for more COVID-19 relief during the upcoming General Assembly session, which is scheduled to begin on Jan. 13. The legislature’s presiding officers, House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County) and Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City), also have said that providing help for struggling families and businesses is their top priority for the 90-day session.
By Josh Kurtz