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Three members of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s staff test positive for COVID; conference attendees warned of possible exposure

Three members of Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s team have tested positive for the coronavirus and an alert went out to thousands of people who attended a political conference in Ocean City last week.

“While we cannot disclose any personal health information, three members of Governor Hogan’s staff recently tested positive for COVID-19,” said Kata D. Hall, a spokeswoman for the Republican governor, in a statement Wednesday. “All those affected are feeling fine.”

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The governor’s office first confirmed the positive cases Tuesday night. Those who tested positive are quarantining in accordance with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocol. The governor’s office also said contact tracing is underway.

Initially, the governor’s office said four staffers tested positive. But one employee who had a positive rapid test received a negative result from a PCR test sent to a lab, leaving three confirmed cases, Hall said.

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The entire staff in the governor’s office is fully vaccinated, Hall said.

Hogan and Rutherford are vaccinated, as well, and the governor revealed that he got a “booster” dose of the vaccine last Monday.

Hogan and Rutherford were tested for the virus “out of an abundance of caution” and received negative results, Hall said. She would not say when they were tested or how many times they’ve been tested since the cases among their staff were first confirmed.

Post-vaccination infections, also called “breakthrough” cases, are expected but not common, according to health experts. The main benefit of the vaccines is to prevent deaths, hospitalizations and serious illness — not necessarily to prevent all infections — a point noted on Twitter by Hogan’s chief of staff, Amelia Chassé Alcivar.

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“Thankful all of our team members are doing well,” Chassé Alcivar wrote. “This is further proof that vaccination is our single best tool to prevent serious illness. Stay safe everyone!”

From January through this week, 6.5% of Maryland’s confirmed coronavirus cases have been in fully vaccinated individuals, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s vaccine dashboard. Among Marylanders who are fully vaccinated, fewer than 0.27% have tested positive.

Over the past week, the governor and many members of his team took a swing through the Eastern Shore, visiting businesses and holding a news conference, and then spent several days in Ocean City at the Maryland Association of Counties annual conference. Hogan wrapped up the conference with a speech Saturday morning.

The conference is attended by thousands of government officials from across the state, and there are numerous after-hours social events and political fundraisers held at the same time.

Change Maryland, one of Hogan’s political organizations, held a fundraiser last Thursday at the Clarion Fontainebleau hotel in Ocean City.

The Maryland Association of Counties sent an email to conference attendees Tuesday night notifying them that there were positive tests potentially associated with the conference, said Michael Sanderson, the organization’s director.

Sanderson said the association decided to send the email after reading news reports that “seemed to indicate more than one or two people that were at and around our events” tested positive.

Measures to limit the spread of the virus, such as masking and physical distancing, were encouraged but not required at the conference.

“We did strongly recommend and urge the use of masks,” Sanderson said. “We changed the physical space of most of our breakout sessions to allow more space between seats and fewer seats at the table … in keeping with the times that we’re in.”

About 50% to 70% of conference attendees were wearing masks, according to Dennis Schrader, the state health secretary, who was asked about mask usage during an interview last Thursday on WYPR radio.

“I was wearing one, of course,” Schrader said.

“MACo has asked that that be considered by participants,” said Schrader, adding he saw “quite a bit of compliance with that request from MACo.”

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich, a Democrat, estimated indoor mask usage at the conference was “very 50-50.”

Elrich, who received a negative test result, said “it was no surprise to anyone” that the virus might have spread at the conference or after-hours events in Ocean City.

The Worcester County Health Department issued a statement Wednesday saying it does not have a role in responding to the concern about cases at the conference.

“WHCD is not involved in this particular contact tracing; that is handled by the county where the case resides, in conjunction with the event coordinators,” the statement read.

MACo’s Sanderson noted the association’s conference was not the only gathering on the Eastern Shore where the virus could have spread.

Politicians, lobbyists and others have filled their social media accounts with pictures from fundraisers and other events, many of them featuring smiling, maskless faces.

Following the conference in Ocean City, Hogan was in King George, Virginia, Monday with Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam and Washington, D.C., Mayor Muriel Bowser. And he attended a ribbon-cutting event Tuesday for an urgent care center at BWI Marshall Airport in Linthicum.

Hogan has made no public statements about the coronavirus cases in his office.

Rutherford did not mention the positive cases during a Wednesday morning interview on WCBC radio in Cumberland. Rutherford called in from his home and promoted an in-person town hall on opioid addictions planned for Thursday night at Allegany College. He also said he plans to visit two public schools in Allegany County.

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