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Md., Va. governors say state workers need to show proof of covid vaccination or get tested

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in Arlington on July 23.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in Arlington on July 23. (Oliver Contreras/Bloomberg News)

A previous version of this article incorrectly reported that the number of new daily coronavirus cases in Maryland rose 63 percent from Wednesday to Thursday. They rose 63 percent from Monday to Thursday. The article has been corrected.

The governors of Virginia and Maryland on Thursday announced some state employees would be required to get vaccinated or get tested regularly for the coronavirus, but neither said he would reimpose a mask mandate as cases in the region continue to increase.

Meanwhile leaders of several localities in Maryland — including Montgomery County, the state’s most populous jurisdiction, and Prince George’s County, the second-largest and the hardest hit by the virus — announced they were requiring indoor masks for everyone, regardless of vaccination status, as much of the state reached a “substantial” level of coronavirus transmission.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said Thursday that he will require state employees to show proof of full vaccination or a weekly negative coronavirus test, while Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced that all state employees who work in congregate settings, such as prisons and hospitals, must get vaccinated, or wear face coverings and get tested. Both orders go into effect Sept. 1.

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Both governors emphasized the importance of vaccination as the most effective way to reduce the spread of the coronavirus, which has been hastened by the highly contagious delta variant.

“The only way we can beat this virus is vaccination,” said Northam, a pediatric neurologist. “And it breaks my heart as your governor and as a doctor to see people getting sick, getting hospitalized and unfortunately dying of a disease that is now preventable for most people, a disease they could get vaccinated against.”

The order from Northam, issued by executive directive, applies to about 122,000 workers, including employees of state agencies and departments, most faculty and staff members at state universities, and workers at state-run behavioral health hospitals.

It will not apply to the legislature or courts, or to K-12 teachers and staffers across the state, because they are employed by localities, but Northam called on those entities as well as private businesses to also impose vaccination requirements.

Northam appealed to people who may have wanted to observe the effect of vaccine on those around them before getting it themselves.

“The time for waiting is over,” he said. “Millions of people around the world have been vaccinated, and we are fine.”

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Hogan’s mandate will affect employees in 48 state facilities — 11 facilities run by the state Department of Health, 12 operated by the Department of Juvenile Services, 24 run by the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services, and one operated by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Anyone who tries to provide false proof of vaccination will be subject to disciplinary action.

“These actions are being taken to further protect our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “The state will lead by example.”

As of Wednesday, there had been 1,428 coronavirus cases in local and state facilities in Maryland since the start of the pandemic, according to state data. Six state employees have died. In the state’s prisons, 349 inmates have contracted the coronavirus and 32 have died.

Hogan is also urging operators of nursing homes in Maryland to institute a similar vaccination requirement for their employees in the state’s 227 nursing homes. An uptick of infections in unvaccinated staff members does not appear to be translating into an increase in covid-19 cases among nursing home residents, as happened previously, he said.

Hogan said Maryland — unlike Florida, Texas and Louisiana, which have become hot spots for the delta variant — is not seeing a dramatic increase in hospitalizations and deaths. He said hospitalizations are down 83 percent from their peak and deaths are down 94 percent from the height of the pandemic.

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Rather, Hogan, who is not considering new restrictions on gatherings, said Marylanders “should feel comfortable going about our daily lives, keeping businesses open, getting more people back to work and getting our kids to school.”

Still, he said that he remains “very concerned” about the delta variant and the increase in infections among the unvaccinated and that he continues to “strongly” recommend that unvaccinated residents wear masks in public indoor settings, just as he did when he lifted the state mask mandate in May.

He said that businesses, workplaces and local governments across the state continue to be able to set their own policies to protect public health but that the state is “not imposing any new restrictions or mandates at this time.”

“Mask mandates or shutdowns will not be able to eradicate the threat of the virus or this delta variant,” he said.

D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) reimposed an indoor mask mandate last week, after the city reached a substantial level of community transmission of the virus. LaToya Foster, a spokeswoman for Bowser, said the mayor is still discussing a potential vaccination requirement with city workers’ labor unions and not ready to announce any rule yet.

On Thursday, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, along with Baltimore City, announced that indoor mask mandates would be back in effect in those jurisdictions.

“After consulting with health officials who are monitoring our COVID-19 metrics daily, we have been advised that we are now at a point where we must reinstitute an indoor public mask mandate to keep Prince Georgians safe,” County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said in a statement. Everyone over the age of 5 must wear a mask in indoor public places in the county beginning at 5 p.m. Sunday.

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The Montgomery County Council on Thursday voted to reimpose a mask mandate there after the county reached a substantial level of community transmission of the virus. It will take effect at 12:01 a.m. Saturday.

“We know fundamentally that masks have absolutely worked,” said Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large), the council’s vice president.

Baltimore City’s new indoor mask requirement goes into effect at 9 a.m. Monday.

“This pandemic is not over and we must all do our due diligence to protect ourselves and our neighbors,” Mayor Brandon M. Scott (D) said in a statement, adding that residents also needed to get vaccinated.

According to state and city data, 54.9 percent of Maryland residents, 54.3 percent of Virginia residents and 55.1 percent of D.C. residents are fully vaccinated.

The state employee vaccination orders come as both states and D.C. are experiencing substantial or high community transmission of the coronavirus, triggering the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendation that people resume wearing masks indoors in those areas, regardless of vaccination status.

Maryland reported 729 new coronavirus cases Thursday, a 63 percent increase since Monday. According to CDC data, more than half of the state’s jurisdictions have a substantial level of transmission — including Prince George’s, Frederick, Charles and Anne Arundel counties and Baltimore City. Dorchester and Wicomico counties on the Eastern Shore are at a high level of transmission.

Maryland officials also released more information on breakthrough coronavirus cases among vaccinated residents. Of the 3.2 million Maryland residents who have been fully vaccinated, 3,836 of them, or 0.12 percent, have contracted the coronavirus. Of those cases, 454 were hospitalized and 53 died. The vast majority of vaccinated people, officials said, escaped serious illness and death.

In Virginia, the CDC lists 116 cities and counties as having substantial or high transmission, while 16 counties and cities have moderate transmission. Falls Church has low transmission.

The Virginia Department of Health said Thursday that a child between the ages of 10 and 19 from the health region that includes Hampton Roads and the Eastern Shore died of complications from covid-19.

Northam on Thursday also urged schools to require masks in accordance with updated CDC guidance for schools, also issued last week.

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Stopping short of mandating masks himself, Northam noted that a provision in a bill passed this year by the General Assembly requires schools to follow current CDC guidance “to the maximum extent practicable.”

In the past seven months, about 98 percent of the people who have been hospitalized for or died of covid-19 in Virginia were unvaccinated, according to state data.

At least five other states — California, Nevada, North Carolina, New York and Illinois — require some segments of their state workforce to be vaccinated, according to the National Academy for State Health Policy, which tracks such data, and Virginia’s policy is among the most comprehensive.

Bills have been introduced in Virginia and Maryland that would prohibit employer vaccination mandates and discrimination based on vaccination status.

Stephanie Lai and Julie Zauzmer Weil contributed to this report.

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