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Maryland’s state jail, hospital and health care workers will need COVID vaccine or have to wear masks and be tested

Hogan announced vaccine requirements for state employees in "congregate settings", such as prisons, state hospitals, juvenile services facilities among others.

Maryland will require state employees who care for people in prisons, hospitals, veterans centers and juvenile facilities to get COVID-19 vaccinations, or submit to regular testing and mask-wearing restrictions starting Sept. 1, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday.

Hogan’s order applies to 48 state-run “congregate care” facilities. Those who do not get at least one dose of the vaccine by September will have to be tested multiple times a week, Hogan said.

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Hogan also encouraged private operators of nursing homes and other similar institutions to require vaccination among employees.

During a news conference in Annapolis, the Republican governor cited the delta variant of COVID-19 as a reason for the new rules, saying nearly all of the cases sequenced by the state were examples of delta.

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“The delta variant is spreading like wildfire in areas with low vaccination rates,” Hogan said. Vaccines are helping Maryland “contain this fire.”

The largest union for state workers, the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, previously signed an agreement that the state could impose requirements on unvaccinated employees, such as wearing personal protective equipment and frequent testing for the virus.

“We welcome proactive steps to keep people safe. We’ve been the ones pushing for increased health and safety measures around the state,” said Stuart Katzenberg, director of bargaining for AFSCME Maryland Council 3.

Katzenberg said workers in the union want to meet with the Hogan administration on comprehensive measures to protect workers and clients from getting sick. It’s all the more urgent, he said, given the contagiousness of the delta variant.

“Vaccination is one component of a plan. As variants are breaking through, there must be a holistic approach,” Katzenberg said. “We look forward to sitting down and talking about everything.”

Hogan’s announcement is limited to the agencies that have direct care responsibilities, and not to the state government as a whole — though many agencies have workers that are working in person and interacting with the public.

The governor said that there haven’t been “serious outbreaks” in other agencies.

“We just didn’t feel it was necessary and appropriate at this time” to have a vaccine requirement across all state agencies, Hogan said.

The state has already offered $100 bonuses to employees who got their vaccination, and many took advantage of the deal, Hogan said. Now the state is opting for the “carrot and stick” method, Hogan said.

Hogan’s announcement came on the same day that Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott reinstated a mask mandate for the city, also citing the variant.

Maryland remains one of the most vaccinated states in the nation, with 77.9% of adults having received at least one dose of a vaccine.

But cases have risen of late. The state reported more than 700 new cases Thursday — a level not seen since May. Hospitalizations have risen for 11 straight days, and Hogan said Thursday the vast majority were unvaccinated. The state’s positivity rate has climbed to 3.64% after falling below 1%.

Since January, 96% of Maryland’s cases have been among unvaccinated people, said Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy health secretary for public health services. So far, the state has recorded 3,800 so-called breakthrough infections among 3.2 million fully vaccinated Marylanders. Some 454 fully vaccinated Marylanders have been hospitalized, and 53 have died, Chan said.

Hogan said Thursday he wouldn’t be instituting new mask requirements for the public or other restrictions.

“There is nothing more effective at saving lives and keeping people out of the hospital than the vaccines,” Hogan said.

“Just get the damn vaccine,” he said.

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