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Hogan warns in State of the State speech of difficult path of ‘many months’ to vaccinating all Marylanders against COVID-19

Gov. Larry Hogan urged all Marylanders Wednesday to get the coronavirus vaccine “when one becomes available to you,” but cautioned that it is going to be a long and difficult journey to get everyone vaccinated.

Delivering his annual State of the State speech via livestream, Hogan said Maryland residents must be patient.

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Hogan called vaccines “the best hope for bringing this pandemic to an end.”

“Getting a vaccine to everyone who wants one will be a much longer and much more difficult process than any of us would like it to be,” the Republican governor said.

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The state’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine has been slow and confusing, as there are multiple avenues for seeking the shots, including hospitals, local health departments, a limited number of pharmacies and, soon, state-run mass vaccination clinics. More than 2 million Marylanders are eligible to be vaccinated under the state’s phased approach, but there are not nearly enough appointments for them.

Hogan has been criticized for opening up eligibility further without having sufficient doses. State senators are so concerned that they’ve delayed scheduling a vote to confirm Hogan’s nominee for health secretary, requiring the appointee to give weekly updates while he remains an acting agency head.

“It is going to require a great deal of patience for many months, while states continue to push the federal government and the manufacturers to increase the production and to drastically increase the allocations they provide to the states,” Hogan said.

He added: “The crisis will not end overnight, but together we will bring it to an end. We will get our kids back to school, get people back to work, and get life back to normal again.”

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Hogan asked viewers to join him in a moment of silent prayer for the 7,043 Marylanders who have died from the coronavirus, as well as the more than 450,000 Americans and more than 2.2 million people worldwide who have died.

He spent part of the 20-minute speech touting what he says are the state government’s successes during the pandemic, including adding hospital beds, securing protective equipment such as masks and gloves, conducting more than 7.1 million coronavirus tests and administering 570,000 shots of the vaccine.

State auditors are reviewing some of the state’s purchases, including a problematic deal for masks and ventilators and the acquisition of 500,000 tests from a South Korean company for which the state had to buy replacements.

Hogan recalled how during his last State of the State speech, the coronavirus was just emerging as a concern. Shortly afterward, during a meeting of the National Governors Association, Hogan arranged for a briefing for the governors with top federal health experts.

“Every single day since that day, we have had to take unprecedented actions that were unthinkable just a year ago,” he said.

In announcing his plans Monday to give the speech Wednesday evening and without an audience, Hogan cited the pandemic. Traditionally, the governor speaks at midday before a joint session of the General Assembly in a packed House of Delegates chamber.

The Maryland constitution requires only that a governor “shall, from time to time, inform the Legislature of the condition of the State and recommend to their consideration such measures as he may judge necessary and expedient.”

Hogan is in his second, four-year term and this was his seventh State of the State address. Term limits mean he cannot seek reelection in 2022. Hogan has said he’s open to considering a run for president in 2024.

Hogan also used his speech to urge the legislature again to pass his proposed RELIEF Act, a coronavirus recovery package. The state Senate has fast-tracked a version of the legislation, after adding $520 million in aid to Hogan’s $1 billion proposal. The measure includes direct payments to some low-income Marylanders, as well as tax breaks for businesses and those receiving unemployment and a variety of grants and other assistance.

And Hogan renewed his calls for public school systems to resume in-person classes in the coming weeks. The governor has said schools should reopen no later than March 1 and threatened to pursue legal action against districts that don’t meet that deadline.

Hogan contends that keeping lessons entirely online is hurting children and that the risk of COVID-19 spreading in schools is relatively low. Teachers unions have blasted the governor for those remarks, accusing him of bullying districts and ignoring safety concerns.

“It is critical that we give our students the chance to get safely back into the classrooms. During this entire crisis, we have always followed the science, and the science is clear,” Hogan said. “It’s time to get our students back into the classrooms where they belong.”

To make his point, Hogan singled out Tina Baker, a special education teacher in Carroll County, “who has had the courage to provide in-person instruction since September so that her students won’t fall behind.”

Hogan also had praise for health care workers, essential workers and National Guard troops who have played a role in keeping Marylanders safe and keeping the economy functioning during the pandemic.

Senate President Bill Ferguson said he noticed Hogan didn’t talk about how the pandemic has hit some Marylanders worse than others, including the rates of infections and deaths among people of color that are disproportionate to their population.

“It’s hard to fix a problem if you don’t name it,” said Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, in an interview. “I was surprised that the governor omitted discussion of the disparate impact of the pandemic on health, on job losses, on educational outcomes. I hope it was an oversight.”

Sen. Melony Griffith, a Prince George’s County Democrat and president pro tem of the Senate, said she also was struck by the lack of any mention of racial inequities or disparities in the governor’s address.

“It is my hope that he will join us in our efforts to address issues around wealth equity and health disparities, to join the legislature in holding these among the top priorities,” Griffith said. “For him to at least mention the reckoning opens the door for those conversations.”

In a brief Democratic video response to the governor’s speech, Del. Eric Luedtke of Montgomery County said his party and Hogan are in agreement that providing relief for financially struggling residents and businesses is important.

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“Working with Gov. Hogan, the legislature will provide immediate relief for Maryland families and small businesses impacted by the pandemic,” he said.

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But Luedtke said Hogan’s administration is failing Marylanders in multiple ways: with a “bungled” vaccine rollout, with an unemployment system that left tens of thousands of people struggling to receive payments, and by “demonizing” educators instead of working with them to safely reopen schools.

Luedtke, the House majority leader, said lawmakers plan to pass bills addressing those problems, as well as to provide more protections to essential workers, reform policing policies and advance racial justice.

“Democrats will work relentlessly to move Maryland forward, to make sure that the state of our state grows stronger not just over the next year, but for many years to come,” Luedtke said.

In a post-speech interview with Maryland Public Television’s Jeff Salkin and Charles Robinson, Luedtke offered further criticism of Hogan’s “absolutely abysmal” handling of the vaccine rollout.

“The public is deeply confused about how to get access to the vaccine,” he said.

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