xml:space="preserve">
xml:space="preserve">
Advertisement
Advertisement

‘Today is a good day, Baltimore’: VP Kamala Harris visits COVID vaccine site, says US is emerging from crisis

Declaring “Today is a good day, Baltimore,” Vice President Kamala Harris marked the 100th day of the Biden administration by visiting a bustling vaccination site and saying the nation is beginning to emerge from the coronavirus crisis, even as significant economic and health challenges remain.

The Democratic vice president, joined Thursday by Republican Gov. Larry Hogan and Democratic Mayor Brandon Scott, toured the mass COVID-19 vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium, where she celebrated the patients and vaccinators as “heroes.”

Advertisement

“Hey, everyone!” Harris shouted to people getting vaccinated on the stadium’s club level as she arrived to shouts and applause.

Like an enthusiastic coach exhorting her team, Harris thanked patients for getting vaccinated and — along with Hogan — encouraged them to invite their friends to get the shots, as well.

Advertisement
Advertisement

“I just want to thank you guys for rolling up your sleeves,” a masked Harris told them. “You guys are role models.”

She singled out one nervous admirer for special praise. Melissa Wesby, a registered nurse at Johns Hopkins Bayview, introduced Harris before the vice president’s remarks in a concourse following her tour. Wesby confided to listeners that she struggled with seeing coronavirus patients suffer alone, but that she believes the pandemic’s grip is easing.

Harris then opened her remarks by thanking Wesby, a breast cancer survivor and mother of three, as an example of how crises produce “heroes among us.”

Wesby, 42, said in an interview that she doesn’t feel like a hero, but the vice president’s kindness made this “one of the best days of my life,” even though she was “trembling” with nervousness and emotion.

Advertisement

Harris arrived via helicopter shortly after 1:30 p.m. in Port Covington, then took the short drive to the stadium site, where Hogan, Scott and Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, awaited her.

Her visit came after Democratic President Joe Biden’s joint address Wednesday to Congress, promoting a pair of sweeping legislative packages. The American Families Plan focuses on lowering child care costs, expanding education and establishing paid family leave. Meanwhile, the American Jobs Plan would fund improvements to the nation’s roads, bridges and other infrastructure.

Harris arrived on an overcast, warm afternoon in Baltimore, with traffic buzzing around Camden Yards. Fans wearing Baltimore Orioles and New York Yankees jerseys mixed in the parking lot with people arriving to get vaccinated, as well as VIPs coming to the vice president’s event. An attendant at M&T’s Parking Lot B had to keep shouting reminders that the lot was for vaccine recipients, not baseball fans or anybody else.

The vice president toured the site, then talked about the administration’s first 100 days, as well as its legislation before Congress.

“Getting the shot is about not only taking care of ourselves, it’s about loving our neighbor. It’s about being responsible to our community. It’s about lifting up the whole, and that’s what you all are doing,” Harris said. “And so, I’m here to visit because here in Baltimore, you guys are doing some amazing work. All the health care workers have been working around the clock.”

During her speech, Harris credited “American aspiration” for a nationwide effort that has administered more than 200 million shots in arms in the administration’s first 100 days.

”America is once again on the move, and that’s in big part thanks to exactly what’s happening here in this stadium, which is this vaccination effort,” Harris said. “People can walk right into this stadium and get vaccinated, and this is happening around the country.”

The M&T site, at the home of the Baltimore Ravens, is operated by a partnership of the University of Maryland Medical System, the state health department, the Maryland National Guard and the Maryland Stadium Authority. More than 200,000 vaccines have been administered at the site since it opened in late February. It’s one of 13 mass vaccination sites in the state.

As of Thursday, the state health department reported more than 2.6 million Marylanders, or about 43% of the population, have received at least one dose of the vaccine. About 1.94 million resident, roughly 32%, have been fully vaccinated.

Among those fully vaccinated as of this week, about 22% are Black, though they make up nearly a third of the state’s population. Just over 5% of those fully vaccinated are Hispanic, though they make up about 11% of the population. Hogan introduced the head of the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force, Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead of the Maryland Army National Guard, to Harris at the stadium.

Neither Harris nor Biden had visited Baltimore since taking office. Last month, Biden canceled a trip to Emergent BioSolutions’ plant in East Baltimore, which is struggling with COVID-19 vaccine production troubles and facing federal scrutiny.

In 2019, Harris located her presidential primary campaign headquarters in a Baltimore office building.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin of Maryland said he spoke to Harris recently and asked her about coming to Baltimore. He said she likened it to her hometown of Oakland, California, in that “it is a real city with real challenges,” but also one with “so much promise.”

“There is lots she can identify with,” Cardin said.

After Harris ended her presidential bid in December 2019, Biden picked her as his running mate. She’s the first female vice president and woman of color to win that office.

In addition to Hogan and Scott, some of the Democratic members of Maryland’s congressional delegation greeted Harris: the state’s U.S. senators, Cardin and Chris Van Hollen, and U.S. representatives Kweisi Mfume and John Sarbanes. Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski, a Democrat, also attended, posing for a picture with Fauci.

Van Hollen noted that one person he saw on the tour wore a mask that read “Trust Fauci.”

”We now have an administration that believes in scientists and health care workers. That obviously helps get the job done,” Van Hollen said.

Scott wore a black mask with the message that read, in lowercase letters, “a black woman created this.” He thanked Harris for partnering with him to support “approaching [coronavirus] recovery with an equitable lens.”

Advertisement

Harris promoted the jobs and infrastructure plan and the American Families Plan, which she said would address a child care crisis, exacerbated by the pandemic forcing nearly 2 million women out of the workforce in the past year, Harris said.

Advertisement

”This plan … will establish universal prekindergarten and lower the cost of child care, making child care affordable and accessible, which has been a priority for so many of us,” she said.

Congressional Republicans have questioned raising taxes on the wealthy to pay for the American Families Plan, and have criticized the administration’s proposal to increase corporate taxes to fund its jobs plan.

No Republicans voted for Biden’s American Rescue Plan, the COVID economic relief bill passed in March that delivered Baltimore about $670 million in direct support. The mayor told Harris that he wanted to thank the Biden-Harris administration 670 million times.

Baltimore Sun reporters Colin Campbell and Emily Opilo contributed to this article.

Recommended on Baltimore Sun

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement