The Perfect Enemy | Gov. Hogan announces long-term COVID-19 preparedness strategy for Maryland
July 5, 2022

Gov. Hogan announces long-term COVID-19 preparedness strategy for Maryland

Gov. Hogan announces long-term COVID-19 preparedness strategy for Maryland  Baltimore Sun

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Gov. Larry Hogan announced a long-term plan Thursday to manage the ongoing coronavirus pandemic that centers on ensuring accessibility of the latest tests, vaccines and medications.

Called COVIDReady Maryland, the long-term preparedness plan aims to maintain readiness for emerging variants and surges in cases so people stay healthy and out of the hospital.

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The plan has several facets. One effort specifically calls for expanded use of so-called “test-to-treat.” That means getting people tested, and if they have an infection and are eligible, giving them an antiviral medication during the same visit.

The state offers the program at its State Center testing facility in Baltimore. Dozens of other locations such as urgent care centers and pharmacies also offer test-to-treat, and Hogan said others will be added by fall.

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The plan also calls for expanding use of therapeutics generally, including the antiviral pill Paxlovid, the antiviral infusion Remdesivir and monoclonal antibody infusions. Hogan said they were available in hundreds of locations around the state.

Another element of the plan involves ensuring eligible people get booster shots, including a first booster for those over age 5 and a second booster for those over age 50 or with underlying health conditions.

Hogan said a task force continues to meet weekly to review data and prepare for waves. Its work includes stockpiling protective gear and reviewing hospital surge plans.

The state also plans enhanced awareness and outreach efforts to ensure the public knows how and where to get appointments for vaccines, therapies and tests. A call center will continue to be available at 1-855-MD-GOVAX.

And in the latest move, as federal regulators review vaccines for children under age 5, the state will ramp up access. There are approximately 358,000 children in that age group in the state, and they could become eligible as soon as June 20.

“These COVID-19 vaccines, just like the other COVID-19 vaccines we have for other age groups, will help protect our youngest Marylanders against severe illness, hospitalization, or even death from this virus,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s deputy health secretary for public health services, in prepared remarks. “Our goal with this age group, as it has been for all age groups, is to distribute these COVID-19 vaccines equitably across the state, utilizing our vast network of pediatricians and family practitioners, as well as local health departments, who will be at the forefront of this vaccination effort.”

Hogan hasn’t held a COVID-centric news conference since early February, but has addressed the pandemic on the national news circuit.

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Maryland and the nation are in the midst of another COVID-19 wave, though one more mild than the December-January surge when daily infections eventually exceeded 17,000. State figures show there were 1,756 cases reported Thursday, though the tally is likely far higher because not all people testing at home are reporting results.

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Cases are being reported statewide, but Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Howard and Kent counties have high levels of transmission, according to the U.S. Centers of Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC urges people to wear masks indoors, get vaccinated and boosted, and continue testing.

With funding running low, President Joe Biden has asked Congress to continue funding tests, vaccines and medications.

Dr. Eric Toner, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and a pandemic preparedness expert, said the state should use its own funds if needed.

Public health officials have said they expect another wave of cases in the fall or winter, or even later this summer, and the public and authorities need to be prepared.

”The priority for another substantial surge of COVID cases is the ability to rapidly ramp up vaccination,” Toner said. “The vaccine makers are planning to roll out new boosters in the fall that should cover more variants so there may be a need to do large scale vaccinations again.”

Toner said pharmacies can’t fill demand and the state may have to reopen more mass vaccination sites to handle the vaccinations and boosters, as well as test-to-treat programs and infusions of monoclonal antibodies.