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The recent surge of COVID-19 and the new and contagious delta variant have the Biden administration as well as state and local officials facing tough decisions, including whether to impose vaccine mandates. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan joins Judy Woodruff to discuss the challenges.
The recent surge of COVID-19 and the new and contagious Delta variant have the Biden administration, as well as state and local officials, facing tough decisions, including whether to impose vaccine mandates.
We turn now to the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan.
Governor Hogan, thank you very much for being with us.
As we have been reporting, this Delta variant is rising across the country. We saw in your state of Maryland hospitalizations are up something like triple what they were a month ago. What are you seeing?
Gov. Larry Hogan (R-MD):
Well, so, we're a little bit luckier than most of the rest of the country, because we're one of the most vaccinated states in America. And we have vaccinated 78 percent of the people in our state, and nearly 94 percent of all of our seniors.
So, we were down to almost no cases and no hospitalizations, and it's gone up. We're concerned about it, but we're much lower than just about any other state.
This Delta variant is of great concern to us, though. It's much more contagious. It potentially causes more serious illness. But, right now, we're — our big focus is just continuing to vaccinate those last few Marylanders, because, right now, nearly 100 percent of all of our hospitalizations and deaths are people who are not vaccinated.
You are doing well with vaccinations, and yet you have announced you are going to be requiring state employees who work in so-called congregate settings with individuals who are vulnerable to be vaccinated.
Tell us how that's going to work.
Gov. Larry Hogan:
Well, we're concerned about our most vulnerable citizens, so people that are in congregate facilities, that are in our Department of Corrections and our juvenile services, our Health Department facilities and in our veterans agencies where we're taking care of some seniors and veterans in a nursing home, we want to make sure.
We have done pretty well with them. They are about in line with some of the rest of the population, but we can't take any chances. This is where we had all the problems early on was with folks in some of those congregate facilities. They're putting folks at risk.
And so we're controlling those employees who work for us and asking them to make sure that they get vaccinated, have a first shot no later than September 1. And if they don't and can't show proof of vaccination, then we're going to require masking requirements and constant, ongoing testing to make sure that they're not bringing the virus into our facilities.
As I'm sure you know, Governor, the governor of your neighboring state of Virginia has announced that he's going to require all state employees to be vaccinated, or else to undergo rigorous weekly testing. Why not do that?
Well, Virginia's in a much different place than we are. The virus is much stronger, more cases, more hospitalizations, and a much lower rate of vaccination.
So, we — these are the first steps that we thought were kind of the measured response to take today. That doesn't mean we may — we may — we watch these things every single day. And if have — if we feel other measures are necessary, then we will certainly consider them and take action.
And what about mandating masking, Governor?
You have been quoted as saying that you don't believe that that's — that that works. And yet you now have — I'm reading today the city of Baltimore mandating indoor masking. Clearly, experts are saying masking is the way to protect people from this Delta.
Why are you opposed?
Well, I'm not opposed. I was one of the first governors in America to require masking. And we just lifted our mask mandate back in May because of our — our vaccinations are so great.
We don't have anybody being — our main focus is hospitalizations and deaths. We don't have any vaccinated people who are going to the hospital or dying. We have it fairly well-managed because of the vaccines.
But I'm not opposed to masking at all. In fact, we still strongly recommend that people who are not vaccinated should wear mask, particularly in indoor settings. And we provide the authority of all of our local governments and — to make those decisions based on the metrics on the ground in their particular jurisdiction, along — following along CDC guidance.
But we also support businesses' abilities to make those decisions as well. And our hospital systems and others are taking actions that we support.
But I guess what I'm asking is, in a situation like right now, where you have the Delta variant posing this dangerous threat, why not go ahead and go back to requiring masking, when everybody can transmit, including people who are vaccinated?
Well, from the beginning of this, we have always followed the science. We have a terrific team of public health professionals and epidemiologists.And we're following their advice every single day.
And they're not advising that at this point in time, because our numbers, our virus numbers, our positivity rate, our transmission rate, our hospitalization rate and — are all the lowest in the country, and our vaccination rate is the highest in the country.
And so we are doing — taking the steps that we think are important, and other states are in a much different situation than we are.
I do want to ask you about children in particular, Governor.
The CDC's director, Dr. Walensky, said today that only 30 percent of challenge 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated. And this is at a time when you have, again, pediatric infectious disease experts saying we know children now account for something like 15 percent to 20 percent of new COVID weekly cases.
And so children are vulnerable, not just children themselves, as these cases go up, but also the ability of children to spread the COVID back to whoever they're living with.
Well, obviously, we're concerned about our children. Again, we're, I think, the best in the country on vaccinating 12-to-17-year-olds. We haven't gotten to the point where we did with adults because they started much later. But we're well into the 60 percent of our 12-to-17-year-olds vaccinated. And we're — 18 and over, we're one of the best in the country. But on the kids, we're doing great also.
And we — while we are seeing more infections with younger people than we were earlier, we are not really seeing that translate into serious illness or hospitalizations yet. But it's something we're very conscious of it and trying to keep a close eye on with this new variant, which everybody is learning more about as we go along every day.
So you're open to doing something more with regard to children, either — requiring masking in schools?
Gov. Larry Hogan :
Most of our school systems are requiring masking.
Our primary focus is to try to make sure that we get our kids back in school, because they have really suffered over the past year or no not being in school. We have had more than half of our school systems open for the entire year, all of our private schools and about half of our public school systems, with almost — and very little cases or serious problems at all.
This variant is different. And that's why, again, our duly elected school boards that — have the power to make those decisions, and most of the of them are making decisions to require masks for the kids, because they're really trying to get kids back in, in a safe way.
We have also put $1.2 billion into our schools to help address filtration systems and HVAC systems that are going to help also to keep the kids safer.
All right, Governor Larry Hogan of the state of Maryland, thank you very much.
Thank you, Judy.
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