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Maryland comptroller joins calls for Hogan, health department to sever ties with Redfield over COVID comments

Maryland Comptroller Peter Franchot has joined the chorus of elected officials in Maryland urging the state to sever its ties with Dr. Robert Redfield, the former head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention under President Donald Trump who currently serves as an unpaid adviser to Gov. Larry Hogan.

Last week, Redfield’s comments endorsing an unproven theory that the coronavirus “most likely” escaped from a lab in Wuhan, China, went public, drawing the ire of several state lawmakers who called on Redfield to walk back his statements or step down from his post.

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The World Health Organization released a new report Tuesday into the origins of the virus. While the report did not draw any firm conclusions and drew criticism from some over access to data from the Chinese government, researchers said the lab leak theory was “extremely unlikely,” adding the virus most likely spread from animals to humans.

But Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, the WHO’s director-general, said the laboratory leak “requires further investigation.”

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“I do not believe that this assessment was extensive enough,” he said. “Although the team has concluded that a laboratory leak is the least likely hypothesis, this requires further investigation, potentially with additional missions involving specialist experts, which I am ready to deploy.”

Redfield has not recanted the comments, and Hogan, through a spokesperson, said he stood by his adviser.

Franchot’s Tuesday letter addressed to state acting health secretary Dennis R. Schrader said the state should base its policy decisions on factual evidence, something he said Redfield’s comments lacked.

“His comments are especially concerning and reckless as hate crimes and bigotry against Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders have skyrocketed over the last year,” Franchot said. “There is no scientific evidence supporting his theory on COVID-19′s origination or spread.

“I would urge you and the Administration to sever all ties to Dr. Redfield and make policy decisions based on the advice of medical professionals and science.”

The Maryland Department of Health declined to comment on Redfield’s statements. But Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Hogan, said Redfield’s belief about the virus’ origins did not have any influence on how the administration was handling the coronavirus pandemic now.

Schrader said in a virtual meeting with state senators that he and Redfield were in regular contact about the circulating COVID-19 variants, vaccination strategies and disease surveillance. He said Redfield was one among several voices considered in the state’s response to the coronavirus.

In a Tuesday interview with The Baltimore Sun, Schrader did not comment on Redfield, but responded to other sections of Franchot’s letter, specifically his requests for more information about the health department’s emergency contracts with consulting firms. Schrader said the companies were helping the state agency run a successful vaccination campaign.

“The important thing here is the state departments are not built to do these very large scale logistics and supply chain operations,” Schrader said. “When you look at routine operations, we didn’t have the scale and scope of people to run a very large operation like that, so we had to find people who are doing this and make sure we haven’t missed anything, and also get expertise and advice and staff augmentation, so that we have the right skill sets and core competencies.”

Franchot’s letter called on Schrader to attend the next Maryland Board of Public Works meeting on April 7, where three emergency contracts totaling some $14 million will be discussed. He also asked for specific examples of the contractors’ work with the state, and questioned why some of the contracts were submitted for the board’s review after the 45-day deadline.

Schrader said he respected the board’s process.

“The Board of Public Works has a mission to provide due diligence to contracting matters, and it’s not unusual to defer a decision or come back and answer more questions, that’s not unusual,” he said. “We’ll get them the information.”

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