COVID rates have spiked in Maryland since October and the death rates are at the highest they’ve been since Spring 2020. As such, before we begin to open up and do anything in-person (dining, schools, etc), we need to first ensure a majority of our residents are vaccinated.
Only after that — in addition to ensuring everyone continues to wear masks and socially distance — should we pursue in-person activities. If we rush this, we will continue to open and close, delay our economic recovery, and put out residents in further danger.
That being said, we must also understand that public health crises are not unique to 2020. That is why we need political leaders willing to take bold steps to protect the lives and livelihoods of Marylanders. As we move past this crisis, we need a ready-to-use playbook on steps that need to be taken should this happen again as well as ensuring we are looking to the future.
This is why my approach of a Relief, Recovery, and Reform Agenda will play a key role in charting a better trajectory for our diverse state.
My Governor’s Pandemic Playbook
During a crisis, we need to ensure that Marylanders have the proper support system to make the best choice for their personal and community health and well-being. This means that we need to provide financial incentives and support to ensure that people can keep paying their employees and have the capital to adapt their businesses to the temporary norms. As such, I would:
- Create standard small-business protocols and support for pandemic-related business innovation.
- Mandate masks for all customers when infectious diseases are involved.
- Ensure all businesses have temperature checking machines, spare masks for customers and staff, hand sanitizer, and designated hours for at-risk population shopping in the case of essential businesses such as grocery stores and banks.
- Keep people on payrolls by providing incentives to businesses to adapt their business model and retain income and providing low to no-interest loans to businesses should they continue to pay their employees. This would stop massive layoffs and ensure that people are able to continue providing for themselves and keep businesses running.
- Provide financial relief including direct cash assistance, increased food aid and eviction protections.
- Protect public health by ensuring full health coverage for all related care and protections for front-line workers by Maryland Health Connection insurance providers as well as any government-provided insurance policies.
It is also critical that we always seek clarification about the categories of those who will be vaccinated. Specifically:
- Who (job types, age, etc) are in each group?
- How many people are in each group and subgroup?
- How will they be able to access vaccinations (hospitals, county clinics, pharmacies)?
- And how do we provide clarity in real-time?
I learned that we cannot rely solely on the federal government for support. As Governor, I will work hard to ensure we are not only better prepared to handle a similar crisis in the future, but do so in a way that can function even if the federal government is unable or unwilling to assist.
In the similar spirit to what I accomplished during Vice President Biden’s Cancer Moonshot, create a “Virus Emergency Task Force” that brings together leaders from our state and local health departments, university health centers, research institutions, healthcare providers, and business/tech leaders.
We need to create a system that is able to kick in the moment any of us are exposed to, or become sick with, a virus. We especially need a team that can be fast-acting and cut through bureaucratic red tape. That is why I will ensure that the Virus Emergency Task Force will report directly to the Governor. Further, in order to ensure a rapid response, this task force will have the flexibility to be convened either at the discretion of the Governor or triggered when certain metrics are met, such as case-load, hospital bed usage, and/or rate of spread across the world.
This team will create a “Quarantine and Treatment” system that can easily link and provide support if/when we need to enact a statewide “Testing and Contact Tracing” program. Some items they should consider:
- Tracing must go hand-in-hand with fast, accurate, and accessible testing procedures >> Once you find those who have been exposed, you can help them stay away from others and stop the spread.
- We should utilize university research labs to expand the capacity of testing
- We can convert empty hotels into medically supervised isolation facilities
- And we must understand that racial, social and economic disparities will occur. One way to address this is by investing in more “Mobile Public Health Education Units” that drive through neighborhoods to get more information directly to those at highest risks. This would include information specifically intended to educate communities about risks and provide resources for testing and treatment. This would also ensure that regardless of what language you speak; your economic, immigration, or housing status; sexual orientation, or gender, you will be able to have access to life-saving resources in the case of similar public health emergencies.
We need to leverage this pivotal moment in our history to build ourselves up across our great state.
This means that we need to grapple with the harsh realities that COVID-19 exposed. We have dire needs that require addressing relating to housing, education, climate, and economic opportunity that this pandemic has both made more apparent, and exacerbated the pandemic’s spread.
These are important areas that each have their own in-depth explanation of how I envision a better future for all of Maryland and what we can do to build that into reality.
In addition, we need to also specifically examine how we can reform our preparation for such states of emergency moving forward:
- Ensure that when we are past COVID-19, that we maintain a stockpile of PPE for our healthcare workers and first responders.
- Rebuild trust in our institutions by focusing on hyper-local public health messaging delivered by trusted messengers of those communities
- Close gaps in immunization requirements that could allow for other potential infectious diseases to spread
- Need to create centralized and statewide vaccination sites and appointment systems.