ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Urging people to “just get the damn vaccine,” Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced new vaccination requirements for state employees who work in congregant settings with the vulnerable on Thursday — or else face strict face-covering requirements and regular COVID-19 testing.
The Republican governor said the requirements, which will go into effect Sept. 1, will apply to state employees who work in 48 different state facilities. They include 11 state health care facilities and 12 facilities under the Maryland Department of Juvenile Services. They also include six detention centers and 18 correctional facilities, as well as the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home.
“The state employees who work in these congregant settings will be required to show proof of vaccination," the governor said. "If they are unable to do so, they will be required to adhere to strict face-covering requirements and will be required to submit to regular ongoing COVID testing.”
Hogan said the actions were being taken to protect the state's most vulnerable citizens.
“The state will lead by example with our own employees who are working in congregant facilities, but today we are also strongly urging the private operators of the state’s 227 nursing homes to institute similar vaccination requirements for their employees, just as the state’s major hospital systems have already done,” Hogan said.
While data does not show infections among nursing residents increasing, Hogan said Maryland is seeing “an uptick in unvaccinated staff member infections.”
The governor pointed that since May, when Maryland's statewide mask mandate was lifted, the health department has strongly recommended unvaccinated people wear face coverings indoors and in situations where distancing can’t be maintained. He also noted that businesses and other workplaces across the state are able to set their own policies.
“The state is not imposing any new restrictions or mandates at this time," Hogan said. “Mask mandates or shutdowns will not be able to eradicate the threat of the virus or this delta variant.”
COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations have been rising, as nearly all of the state's cases now are comprised of the delta variant. Maryland reported 729 new cases on Thursday and 12 more hospitalizations, bringing the total number of COVID-19 patients to 337.
Hogan underscored that Maryland remains at very low levels of hospitalizations "and well within our capacities.”
However, the governor repeatedly emphasized the importance of people getting vaccinated to prevent serious illness, hospitalization and death. He said less than 0.01% of fully vaccinated Maryland residents have been hospitalized, and less than 0.001% of the fully vaccinated have died.
“If you are among the nearly 78% of Maryland adults who have been vaccinated, your chances of getting sick and hospitalized are extremely low, and your chances of dying are almost nonexistent," he said.
State health officials have identified 3,836 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among the fully vaccinated Maryland residents, which represents less than 0.12% of Maryland residents who are fully vaccinated.
The governor had a strong message for the unvaccinated, saying they "are willfully and unnecessarily putting yourself and others at risk of hospitalization and death.”
“You are the ones threatening the freedoms of all the rest of us, the freedom not to wear masks, to keep our businesses open and to get our kids back in school, and tragically it may be only a matter of time until you do get COVID-19," Hogan said.
To drive home the point, the governor spoke of the unvaccinated who have become infected, only to beg in vain for the vaccine as they lay dying in hospitals around the nation.
“We do not want any Marylanders or any more Americans to become one of these preventable stories, so please: Just get the damn vaccine,” Hogan said.