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COVID Vaccines Required For Nursing Home And Hospital Staff

Gov. Larry Hogan giving a COVID-19 update Wednesday. Credit: Governor Larry Hogan Livestream
Gov. Larry Hogan giving a COVID-19 update Wednesday. Credit: Governor Larry Hogan Livestream

Gov. Larry Hogan announced a COVID-19 vaccine mandate Wednesday for all Maryland nursing home and hospital employees.

Employees must get their first vaccinations by Sept. 1 or undergo regular COVID-19 testing.

The mandate would affect 227 nursing homes across Maryland. Hogan said on average, nearly 80% of nursing home staff are vaccinated, but less than half the staff at some facilities are vaccinated,

“We are concerned that the delta variant surge has led to an increase in infections among staff in nursing homes,” Hogan said at an afternoon press conference.

The Biden administration also is requiring nursing home staffs to get vaccinated, or lose Medicaid and Medicare funding.

Joseph DeMattos Jr, the president of the Health Facilities Association of Maryland, said he’s proud of the progress nursing homes have made in getting staff vaccinated, but shared the governor’s frustration with low vaccination rates at some facilities.

“Because of these mandates, we'll save more lives,” DeMattos said at the governor’s press conference.

Maryland hospitals had already formed a consensusto require vaccines for staff back in June, with hospital systems like Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS) setting Sept. 1 as a deadline.

Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association noted the consensus in a statement Wednesday.

“Two and half months before the governor’s mandate, Maryland hospitals took this step to ensure the safety of their patients, employees and communities,” Atlas wrote. “Hospitals that employ approximately 95% of hospital workers in the state already have instituted a mandate or stated an intention to require COVID-19 vaccination for all employees and clinical team members.”

But Hogan said not all hospitals have set mandates and many workers remain unvaccinated.

“This is simply not acceptable,” he said.

Dr. Mohan Suntha, the president of UMMS, said the governor’s mandate is “another step forward” for the state. Suntha added that the mandate for his own staff has boosted vaccination rates.

“We've seen it steadily grow, and we expect it to continue to grow significantly as we get closer to that deadline,” he said.

Hogan also announced Wednesday that the state is launching a new antibody testing program to determine immunity levels among nursing home residents.

The program, which would include 500 nursing home residents across Maryland, would help determine the demand for booster shots.

The Biden administration had announced that starting Sept. 20, booster shots would be widely available. Hogan said they need to be out sooner.

“We believe that the federal government should make booster shots available immediately for seniors and other vulnerable populations,” he said.

The governor also criticized the federal government for not yet getting full FDA authorization for the COVID-19 vaccine, which he said would be an important step for increasing vaccine confidence. Currently the vaccine is being administered under an emergency use authorization.

“We're gonna keep pressing,” Hogan said. “And we'll keep Marylanders informed on any progress that we're able to make with the White House and other federal officials.”

Hogan also said that Marylanders who have COVID and are symptomatic, but not severely ill enough for hospitalization, should consider monoclonal antibody therapy.

Dr. Howard Haft, executive director of the Maryland Primary Care Program, said this therapy is underused, and is readily available across Maryland.

“This treatment can help keep patients out of the hospital and prevent worsening and death,” he said. “Monoclonal antibody therapy is effective even against the circulating variants, including the delta variant.”

Haft stressed that this is not a substitute for vaccination.

Despite rising COVID positivity rates, Hogan said he is not planning any new mask mandates, urging people to get vaccinated instead.

As of Wednesday, the state’s positivity rate is 4.92%. All Maryland counties are at high or substantial transmission rates, according to the CDC.

Sarah Y. Kim is WYPR’s health and housing reporter. Kim is WYPR's Report for America corps member, and Anthony Brandon Fellow. Kim joined WYPR as a 2020-2021 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The GroundTruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. Now in her second year as an RFA corps member, Kim is based in Baltimore City.