“We strongly encourage businesses across the state to consider offering incentives to their workers as well,” Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said in a statement.
The state has about 99,000 employees, about 52,000 of whom are eligible for the program, said Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci. Those employed by the University System of Maryland are not eligible, because the system has required them to be vaccinated.
Maryland’s announcement comes as vaccination rates begin to slow in rural parts of the state, mirroring a nationwide trend.
Last week, West Virginia, an early leader in the vaccination race, said it will offer young residents $100 savings bonds to get vaccinated. Connecticut, in collaboration with a restaurant trade group, is providing free drinks for vaccinated residents at certain restaurants. Harris County, Tex., has allocated $250,000 for incentives including concert tickets and athlete bobbleheads.
In January, Virginia announced that it would be offering inmates in state-run prisons some incentives to get vaccinated, including free credits to call or email loved ones and a package of commissary items such as snacks.
Danny Avula, Virginia’s vaccination coordinator, said last week that the state is considering similar incentive programs for members of the public. One option could be giving away food or an experience, he said, adding that a colleague in New York was vaccinated at the Natural History Museum, under the big blue whale, and that his family got tickets for a future visit.
D.C. officials say they are studying incentive options as well.
Mark Ritacco, government affairs director for the National Association of Counties, said most local governments are still relying on public communications to encourage people to get inoculated. He said it is not yet clear whether pandemic-related federal relief, including dollars from the American Rescue Plan, can be used to fund financial incentives to get vaccinated.
“This equation of supply outstripping demand is so new that counties have not yet determined how they’ll go forward,” Ritacco said Monday. “It was only two to three weeks ago that county officials were saying they needed more vaccine.”
Michael Sanderson, executive director for the Maryland Association of Counties, said he was not aware of counties in the state offering incentives for vaccination. Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D-District 5) said Hogan should include county employees in the state incentive program. The state, he said, “has vastly more resources than the county does” for such efforts.
Ricci said the Hogan administration has not yet pinned down a specific funding source for its incentive program and is “exploring whether it is permissible to use federal coronavirus relief funds.”
Some private employers have offered perks for their staffers to be inoculated, including nursing homes and grocery stores. The Trader Joe’s and Aldi grocery chains said in January that they would give fully vaccinated employees a bonus equivalent to up to four hours of pay.
Throughout the region, the number of new daily coronavirus cases and deaths continues to inch downward as vaccinations increase.
In the District, the seven-day average of new daily infections per 100,000 residents has dropped to 10.63. This is about the same as in late October, before the fall and winter surge, which peaked in January with about 45 new daily cases per 100,000 residents.
In Maryland, the seven-day average is at 13.46, about where it was in February, before an early-spring spike, and also on par with numbers from October.
In Virginia, where the winter spike peaked at 64 new daily cases per 100,000 people, the seven-day average for new daily cases has dropped to 11.70 per 100,000, a number last seen in early October.
The District, which is increasingly focused on walk-in vaccine clinics, offered one Monday for hospitality-industry workers. Five Medicine staffed the clinic at Hook Hall, a venue space on Georgia Avenue NW, in partnership with the Mayor’s Office of Nightlife and Culture and the D.C. health department. At 3 p.m., the clinic reached its goal of vaccinating 50 people and vowed to vaccinate 50 more by the 6 p.m. closing time.
“Restaurant workers are a pivotal and very important part of why our restaurants are surviving these days,” said Shawn Townsend, the director of the nightlife and culture office. “So we wanted to just focus specifically on the hospitality industry.”
Richard Miller, 54, a bartender at Nationals Park, said he had avoided getting the vaccine earlier because he did not want to stand in a long line. “I was going to get it, but I was just waiting,” he said.
This past year has been particularly tough for hospitality workers, said Lorena Ruiz, 50, who prepares food for Union Kitchen and came to the clinic with her 17-year-old daughter, Victoria.
“A lot of people haven’t been working, and they’ve been getting fewer days,” Ruiz said in Spanish. She said she had taken on jobs at other restaurants to make ends meet.
The District unveiled a new website Monday where residents can find an online record of their vaccination, at myir.dc.gov. Patrick Ashley, emergency response director for the city health department, noted that information from some vaccine providers has not yet made it into the system — particularly for D.C. residents who got their shots out of state — and that others might have trouble finding their records because the system could not exactly match their address or phone number to what was written down when they got the shot.
Ashley also sought to clarify confusion over a new masking order issued by Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) over the weekend, then corrected and reissued. He said it is all right for residents, vaccinated or not, to walk down a crowded street without a mask as long as they do not stop to gather with other people. But he said even vaccinated residents should wear masks at restaurants, indoor or outdoor, when they are not actually eating.
Ashley also said private businesses may choose to refuse entrance to people who do not demonstrate that they are vaccinated. But he noted that the D.C. health department has not recommended that businesses do so.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) also relaxed his state’s mask mandate last week to reflect the CDC’s new guidelines, which say that fully vaccinated people can safely forgo masks outdoors in most situations. But neither Northam nor Bowser followed Hogan’s almost complete repeal of mask-wearing outdoors in Maryland. Hogan’s order excludes only large-scale, ticketed events.
Officials in Northern Virginia and public health experts hailed Virginia’s approach, while also warning that there is bound to be confusion in the region over who should wear a mask and where.
“I guess the challenge is, if you put it in the hands of individuals to determine who is vaccinated and who is not, that’s when it gets ugly,” said Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large), the chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. “At the end of the day, it’s a trust issue.”
Amanda Castel, an infectious-disease specialist at George Washington University, said densely populated areas still need to be careful, given virus variants and the fact that case numbers have not dropped below the levels of early fall.
“We’re still not at a fantastic place,” Castel said. “We still have a large proportion of people who haven’t gotten the vaccine. We still have children who can’t get vaccinated. We still have a lot of different factors to look at and to monitor and measure before we can really go back and say, ‘Okay, society can fully reopen.’ ”
Antonio Olivo and Jenna Portnoy contributed to this report.