Gov. Larry Hogan announced efforts to expand surveillance of COVID-19 variants in Maryland on Tuesday — the same day six state senators missed their morning floor session as a precaution after positive rapid tests for the coronavirus.
Hogan also announced that a new mass vaccination site would open in southern Maryland in Waldorf at Regency Furniture Stadium by March 11.
At the start of the Senate's morning session, which continued without the absent senators, Senate President Bill Ferguson said lawmakers were waiting for more reliable polymerase chain reaction test results Tuesday evening. Ferguson noted there had been “several positive rapid tests.”
“Once we have those PCR results, we’ll be able to make decisions on any alterations to the stages of our operations," Ferguson said.
The Senate president said lawmakers are using the rapid tests on Tuesdays and Fridays as part of lawmakers’ surveillance program for the virus, as they conduct their 90-day session in person at the Maryland State House.
Alexandra Hughes, House Speaker Adrienne Jones' chief of staff, said while some House members have quarantined during the legislative session as a precaution, “We have not been notified of any positive member PCR tests during the legislative session.”
The vaccinated population in D.C. may be overestimated in this map because some non-residents who work in D.C. are included in the totals.
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Separately, at an afternoon news conference, Hogan said the state has entered into agreements with the University of Maryland, Baltimore, and Johns Hopkins University to more than double the state’s surveillance of coronavirus variants to screen more than 10% of cases.
Hogan also outlined developments relating to the state's vaccination efforts. While demand for vaccines still far outpaces supply, Hogan updated progress for putting infrastructure in place to speed up the vaccination process when a higher volume of vaccines becomes available.
On Thursday, the state's third mass vaccination site will open at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. The fourth mass vaccination site in Waldorf will be supported by the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Maryland also is planning to open mass vaccination sites on the Eastern Shore and in western Maryland. Next month, the state will open a pre-registration site online for state-run mass vaccination sites.
Hogan also said federal officials told governors in a teleconference call with the White House on Tuesday that officials expect emergency-use authorization for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine — which is being made in Maryland — could be granted by the Food and Drug Administration soon. Allocations of that vaccine could begin as early as next week, Hogan said.
As the state moves toward more in-person instruction in schools, Hogan said he was issuing an executive order to clarify that face coverings are required for anyone over the age of five in areas where interaction with others is likely, such as classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, auditoriums and gymnasiums.
The governor also warned of increasing reports of fraud related to vaccines. He noted that vaccines can't be sold, and health insurance information or Social Security number are not required to receive vaccines, which are free.
An earlier version of this report incorrectly said nine senators were absent instead of six.
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