Category Archives: COVID-19

MCEA Votes No Confidence in MCPS Reopening Plan

By Adam Pagnucco.

Minutes ago, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) released a statement that their worksite representatives had passed a resolution expressing “a lack of confidence” in MCPS’s reopening plan. Their statement and the text of the resolution appear below.


Tuesday, February 16, 2021

Contact on behalf of Montgomery County Education Association:
Kiwana Hall, Communications Director

Montgomery County Education Association Statement on Lack of Confidence Resolution

In response to the inadequacy of the reopening plan approved by the Montgomery County Public Schools Board of Education on February 9th, elected worksite representatives of the Montgomery County Education Association have overwhelmingly passed a resolution stating a lack of confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning, and Schools.

MCEA’s highest level decision-making body, the Representative Assembly, held an emergency meeting on February 15th to discuss the resolution. Over one thousand members and representatives attended. The full resolution is available here.

The current MCPS plan to reopen school facilities cannot be successfully implemented – requiring more resources, more people, and more space than is available – without negatively impacting students’ learning experience.

MCEA members demand that MCPS adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings, implement a contact tracing and testing program, and provide all employees the opportunity to be fully vaccinated before a return to in-person instruction.

The system must also develop a building reopening plan for the adequate staffing of all instructional models, particularly those that directly serve Black and Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishing access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction.

MCEA cannot support the current plan, which will only increase inequity in Montgomery County schools. MCEA has requested a meeting with the Board of Education to discuss the MCPS reopening plan. MCEA urges the Board of Education to take the time to meet with educators.


The text of MCEA’s resolution appears below.


WHEREAS the safety and health of Montgomery County Public School (MCPS) employees and students is a priority in school system operations, and

WHEREAS the global pandemic of COVID-19 has impacted Montgomery County, Maryland with more than 61,000 cases and more than 1,350 deaths, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires human and capital resources that significantly exceed those of a pre-COVID era, and

WHEREAS a return to in-person instruction requires a sustainable instructional model, which allows for all students to receive a free and appropriate education, and

WHEREAS the MCPS Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools is responsible for the development of a coherent and effective plan for instruction, and

WHEREAS the plan approved by the MCPS Board of Education on Tuesday, February 9, 2021, cannot be implemented with existing resources, does not adequately protect the health and safety of employees and students, and diverts resources from Black and Brown children, and children impacted by poverty, the majority of whose families have indicated through the MCPS survey a preference for remaining in distance learning.

Therefore be it RESOLVED, the Montgomery County Education Association (MCEA) has no confidence in the plan developed under the leadership of and recommended by the Chief of Teaching, Learning and Schools.

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall provide the opportunity to all employees to be fully vaccinated prior to a return to school, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall develop and implement a coherent contact tracing and weekly diagnostic testing program in line with CDC guidelines prior to any return to worksites, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall transparently and robustly communicate to employees, families, and community information related to COVID-19 contraction and transmission at the classroom and worksite level, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA demands that MCPS shall adequately staff all instructional models, particularly those which directly serve Black and, Brown students, and students impacted by poverty, without diminishment of access to staff and services that supplement required direct instruction, and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to all CDC guidelines regarding the physical reopening of school buildings which includes but is not limited to mitigation measures, and phased-in reopening of schools based on the zone metrics (Blue, Yellow, Orange, Red), and

Be it further RESOLVED, the MCEA calls for the BOE to adhere to CDC guidelines regarding the ventilation in worksites and environmental air quality of work sites. If any worksite does not have safe ventilation in all rooms, MCPS will install HEPA and other filters to block the spread of the Covid-19 virus. Further, MCPS shall release all test results for each worksite, office, and classroom to all stakeholders before requiring unit members to have to return to any worksites.


Gino Celebrates Big Win on Pay

By Adam Pagnucco.

MCGEO President Gino Renne has sent out a blast email to his MoCo government members celebrating his new agreement on pay increases. Gino is right to celebrate because overall, both the COVID pay he negotiated and the new deal constitute a huge win for labor.

Let’s go back to May 2020. Facing a budget-ravaging pandemic, the county council voted down compensation increases contained in the collective bargaining agreements negotiated by MCGEO, the fire fighters and the police, the three unions who together represent MoCo employees. Those agreements contained $28 million in FY21 compensation increases, amounting to $38 million on an annualized basis. Labor was outraged and proceeded to picket the home of Council Member Hans Riemer, who was particularly vocal in abrogating the agreements.

But just a month before, the unions negotiated COVID pay agreements with County Executive Marc Elrich that provided far more than their abrogated contracts. The county eventually paid out more than $80 million in accordance with those agreements, greatly exceeding the $400,917 spent by Park and Planning and more than double the cost of the unions’ rejected contracts. And as the price for agreeing to let COVID pay end, Gino negotiated a 3.5% service increment, a 1.5% general wage adjustment and longevity pay which, on an annualized basis, should deliver tens of millions more for his members. Plus he can negotiate even more pay increases for FY22.

Gino and Marc Elrich in March 2017.

This was a master clinic on negotiating strategy, a colossal win for the unions and another story adding to Gino’s legend. We reprint his blast email below.


From: UFCW Local 1994 MCGEO
Subject: [External] Montgomery County Members | Breaking News – Local 1994, FOP 35, IAFF 1664 & County Executive Reach Agreement on FY 21 Compensation Package and COVID Differentials
Reply-To: info

[Action Alert]

Breaking News – Local 1994, FOP 35, IAFF 1664 & County Executive Reach Agreement on FY 21 Compensation Package and COVID Differentials

The CARES act which provided funding for local government operations during the pandemic ended December 31, 2020. When the CARES act ended, the county became responsible for all costs, to include COVID differential pay. Since January 1, the County Council has insisted that our COVID differential pay end immediately and they planned to pass a resolution to end it this past week. The differential was bargained between Local 1994 and the County Executive for the additional risk assumed during the pandemic. The three county government unions, FOP Lodge 35, IAFF Local 1664 and Local 1994, engaged the County Executive and members of the Council to voice our concerns over their attempt to end COVID differential pay, and reminded them that increments and general wage adjustments were not funded for FY21.

After multiple meetings with the County Executive and members of the Council, we agreed to a FY21 GWA of 1.5% to begin in the last pay period of June 2021 and a service increment and longevity step to those eligible consistent with the MCGEO Collective Bargaining Agreement. The service and longevity increases will be effective April 11, 2021, for those who missed their increment or longevity step between July 1, 2020, and April 11, 2021. Members who are eligible between April 12 and June 30 will receive their FY21 increments and longevity step on the date due.

Now that the Council has assured the County Executive and the Unions that a GWA and increments will be funded before the end of the fiscal year, effective tomorrow (2/14/2021), the COVID differential pay will end. Although we know that the COVID differential was not nearly enough money to assume the risk of a deadly pandemic, it helped to make working in these conditions bearable. Understand, Montgomery County employees received the highest COVID differential pay in the DMV, if not the nation. Other local jurisdictions who provided a COVID hazard pay ended it months ago. In the event a new stimulus package includes money for a hazard pay, we will be back to the bargaining table with the executive on your behalf.

As always, your best interests and the interests of your union brothers and sisters are paramount. Take care of one another.

In Solidarity,

Gino Renne


Elrich Announces End to COVID Pay

By Adam Pagnucco.

In a blast email sent to county employees on Saturday night, County Executive Marc Elrich announced an end to the county’s COVID emergency pay program. The pay program, initiated in March of last year and providing some classifications of county employees an extra $3-10 per hour, was the most generous of its kind in the region and possibly one of the most generous in the nation. To illustrate its magnitude, Park and Planning – which has about one-ninth of the employees of county government – spent $400,917 on COVID pay while the county to date has spent more than $80 million. According to Elrich, the program will be replaced with a service increment (which in the past equated to a 3.5% increase for eligible employees), a longevity increase and a 1.5% general wage adjustment, both starting in the current fiscal year. That means most county employees will be receiving 5% raises with possibly more coming in the FY22 budget.

Elrich’s blast email is reprinted below.


From: MCG.Postmaster
Sent: Saturday, February 13, 2021
To: #MCG_All <>
Subject: A Message from the County Executive

Dear Montgomery County Government family,

I am inspired by the outstanding work of Montgomery County employees each and every day as we navigate the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 crisis. Countless dedicated County employees have risked their personal safety to continue to deliver the services necessary for our residents in response to the pandemic. In recognition of their work, the County has provided differential pay for all eligible County employees whose jobs have required in-person work. Because of the work and commitment of so many of you, we have been able to keep the county running throughout this pandemic.

Earlier today, my leadership team reached an agreement with our three employee bargaining units to restore some of the compensation increases that were not approved by the County Council last spring as the first wave of COVID hit our community. I am pleased to inform you that the agreement calls for service increments and longevity steps to start with the April 11th pay period. For all eligible employees whose anniversary dates were earlier in the fiscal year, their increments will begin with the April 11th pay period. The increase will not be retroactive. If your anniversary date is later in the fiscal year, the increment will begin during the appropriate later pay period. In addition, a 1.5% General Wage Adjustment for all employees, including unrepresented employees, will go into effect starting with the June 20th pay period. Finally, the agreement ends the hazard pay differential beginning tomorrow, February 14th. While this is short notice for this change in current policy, this deal provides every employee with the certainty of a permanent adjustment to their salaries.

This agreement will need to be approved by the County Council before it is formally adopted, but I am confident the Councilmembers will swiftly act to approve this measured proposal. Thank you again for your commitment to the health and safety of our residents as well as your commitment to your colleagues. With this deal, we can focus our attention and resources on building a stronger, fairer, and more successful Montgomery County for all.

With gratitude for all you have done and continue to do.

Marc Elrich
Montgomery County Executive


County Health Officer: It’s Not Fair That We’re a Punching Bag

By Adam Pagnucco.

In the wake of mass confusion, rampant rumors and frustration about vaccine availability, MoCo Health Officer Travis Gayles defended the county’s vaccine performance at a media briefing today. In evaluating what Gayles had to say, let’s remember a few salient points: there is a nationwide shortage of vaccines; the state allocates vaccines it receives from the federal government between county health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and other vaccinating entities; Montgomery County did not receive doses commensurate with its population as of late January; the counties do not have enough supplies to vaccinate everyone covered by the state’s current phases; and MoCo’s state legislators are demanding that the state do a better job. Neither Gayles nor anyone else in county government has control over these factors. Additionally, Gayles has been targeted by racist and homophobic attacks.

That said, Gayles is clearly fed up with the criticism directed at the county. Below is an excerpt from his remarks to the press.


The other thing that I want to comment on, that I will say, that I will take a moment of personal privilege and professional privilege to address a couple of concerns. As a health officer, we have – and as a public health official – we have absorbed a lot of criticism, to put it mildly, in terms of our jobs and what we’re trying to execute and do. The health departments, particularly here in Maryland, have made great strides in terms of ensuring that our residents have access to timely information, when we find it out, as well as from all levels of the pandemic response from testing opportunities to now when we talk about vaccination, in helping provide guidance to our elected officials in terms of making other decisions related to business, to schools, etcetera. We’ve come under a lot of fire and we are a convenient punching bag, if you will, when things don’t go well.

But that’s not fair to us, and it’s not fair to the thousands of first-line responders who are part of health departments, who are working in our communities to stand up and make sure that our residents are safe. Now we have provided as much guidance to the state as we can, particularly as it relates to vaccine-related issues. We still do not find out our allotments until late. It’s Thursday afternoon and I can’t tell you how many doses that the health department in Montgomery County or any other venue in Montgomery County will receive for doses next week. That limits our ability to be able to consistently stand up clinics and provide timely information to you as our residents.

So we recognize your frustration because we share a lot of that frustration. We do know that the governor is having a press conference in about an hour and a half. Unfortunately, I can’t tell you what those comments will be as unfortunately often-times health officers are not included in those conversations. So what I’m saying is we recognize your frustration as our residents and we’re doing everything we can to get information in a timely manner so that we can put it together in a comprehensive, cohesive manner to deliver you the services that you deserve as our residents of our jurisdiction. So while we continue to advocate on your behalf, we do hope that you remain patient with us as we continue to work with the resources that we have in order to put out a product that is worthy of being accepted and meets the needs of you as our residents.


State Legislators to Hogan: Send MoCo More Vaccines

By Adam Pagnucco.

Voicing concerns that MoCo is not receiving its fair share of vaccines from the state, the county’s state legislators have written to Governor Larry Hogan asking for more doses. The letter was signed by all 8 state senators and all 24 delegates who represent MoCo in Annapolis. It is reprinted below.


February 8, 2021

Governor Lawrence J. Hogan, Jr.
100 State Circle
Annapolis, MD 21401

Dennis Schrader, Acting Secretary
Maryland Department of Health
201 West Preston St.
Baltimore, Maryland 21201

Rona Kramer, Secretary
Maryland Department of Aging
301 West Preston St., Suite 1007
Baltimore, MD 21201

Dear Governor Hogan, Acting Secretary Schrader, and Secretary Kramer:

We are writing to express significant concern that the DC Metro region is falling behind the rest of the state in terms of vaccination. We must address this immediately before the disparity becomes worse. We appreciate the work you are doing, and know there are many competing interests to balance. Although there are many concerns that need to be addressed at the statewide level—such as the volume and complexity of registration options—the concerns expressed here are of particular concern to Montgomery County.

As of February 8th, the statewide rate of vaccination is 9.0%. Montgomery County is nearly a full percentage behind the state average, at 8.2%. Prince George’s County is at only 4.1%. Baltimore County has 10.5% of their population vaccinated, and some rural counties have vaccination rates of more than 14%. This is especially concerning because the DC Metro region leads the state in COVID infections and deaths.

In order to address this disparity we request that the state:

1) Send a larger share of vaccines to hospitals and Health Departments in the areas of the state that have the greatest COVID spread and highest COVID death rates.

Three of the top five zip codes for COVID case counts in the state are in Montgomery County. A fourth is in Prince George’s County. Montgomery County has the most COVID deaths in the state, followed closely by our neighbor Prince George’s. These numbers should be a part of the basis for allocation. The fact is more Marylanders are infected and dying in the DC Metro area.

2) Send a larger share of vaccines to the hospitals and health departments in jurisdictions where more people are eligible for the vaccine.

In addition to lagging in percentage vaccinated, Montgomery County is also leading in the length of our waitlist and competition for the vaccine because Montgomery County has among the highest percentage of people eligible for the vaccine. That includes Montgomery County’s disproportionate share of essential workers who live in the County and outside of the County, as well as the large share of Montgomery County residents over the age of 65. But those on-the-ground realities are not addressed by the state’s reasonable sounding but flawed per capita allocation strategy that does not take into account differences in percentage of people eligible per priority group.

One reason Montgomery County is lagging the state is that the vast majority of vaccines to date have gone to protect our essential workers. Between one third and one half of our workforce lives outside of Montgomery County. Among the Montgomery County hospital employees offered vaccines, available data indicates nearly half live in other jurisdictions within Maryland or DC. A large percentage of our police, fire, and EMS also live outside of Montgomery County, which is reflected in the fact that Montgomery County is ranked 20 out of 24 jurisdictions in Maryland for the percentage of population vaccinated. While we are fully committed to vaccinating our essential workforce, we need a vaccine allocation that acknowledges significant numbers of the vaccines administered by our hospitals and County Health Department are going to residents of other jurisdictions.

According to the State Plan on Aging, people 85+ make up 1.7% of Maryland’s population. But in Montgomery County they are 2.1% of the population, which equates to about 22,000 people. The County is above the state average for 75+ and 65+ as well. We ask the Administration to update its current allocation formula to reflect Montgomery County’s extremely large health care workforce and senior population. Both of these factors have combined to make the Montgomery County waitlist for vaccine access include over 250,000 people, which as an online preregistration is an underestimate for the total number of people eligible in priority groups 1A, 1B, and 1C. While hospitals, the Health Department, and pharmacies have vaccinated about 20,000 residents over age 75, there are still 53,000 seniors in this age range awaiting vaccination. Based on the allocation of 11,000 doses received last week, it will take 4-5 weeks for Montgomery County to vaccinate all of our 75+ population. We understand and appreciate the difficulty of balancing priorities and needs with a limited supply of vaccines. However, given that weekly bulletins from Maryland Department of Health advise vaccinators to prioritize the population over age 75, we urge you to help us make this possible by allocating more vaccines to jurisdictions with insufficient supply for a given priority phase.

3) As soon as possible, add a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County.

While we appreciate the mass vaccination locations being opened in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City and understand the current limits in our state’s supply from the federal government, there is also a desperate need for a mass vaccination site in Montgomery County. It is our understanding that the County Government has offered the County Fairgrounds as a possible site. If a mass vaccination site cannot be established in Montgomery County as sites expand across the state, we request the doses that would go to such a site be sent to the Montgomery County Department of Health for more equitable distribution.

We believe addressing the above mentioned disparities are urgent because our delegation members are hearing daily from people in their eighties who still have not been able to secure vaccination appointments through any of the currently available options. Of course, long waitlists across the County of seniors and essential workers also makes it harder for smaller eligible groups to get vaccinated, like the immunocompromised and people with developmental disabilities. If changes are not made to the state allocations, Montgomery County’s vulnerable seniors and our essential workers will be waiting much longer for vaccine access than our neighbors in other parts of Maryland. While a simple per capita allocation was efficient in the early weeks of the rollout, it has become clear through the data that this approach is not equitable or effective, and leaves too many of our most vulnerable Maryland residents unprotected. It’s now time to have an updated formula with these factors in mind to ensure the DC Metro region does not fall further behind. Independent living facilities have also been a major concern given the difficulties with the Federal Long-Term Care Partnership. We’re particularly appreciative of Secretary Kramer and the Administration for making this a top priority and hope we can quickly begin to vaccinate some of the most high risk residences.

Thank you for your attention in this matter. We also look forward to discussing this further when the Maryland Department of Health joins the Montgomery County Delegation at our February 12th meeting.

Senator Craig Zucker
Senator Susan Lee
Senator Brian Feldman
Senator Cheryl Kagan
Senator Nancy King
Senator Ben Kramer
Senator Will Smith
Senator Jeff Waldstreicher

Delegate Marc Korman
Delegate Al Carr
Delegate Gabriel Acevero
Delegate Kumar Barve
Delegate Lorig Charkoudian
Delegate Charlotte Crutchfield
Delegate Bonnie Cullison
Delegate Kathleen Dumais
Delegate David Fraser-Hidalgo
Delegate Jim Gilchrist
Delegate Anne Kaiser
Delegate Ariana Kelly
Delegate Lesley Lopez
Delegate Sara Love
Delegate Eric Luedtke
Delegate David Moon
Delegate Julie Palakovich Carr
Delegate Lily Qi
Delegate Pam Queen
Delegate Kirill Reznik
Delegate Emily Shetty
Delegate Jared Solomon
Delegate Vaughn Stewart
Delegate Jheanelle Wilkins


Is MoCo an Anti-Restaurant Island?

By Adam Pagnucco.

The Restaurant Association of Maryland (RAM) has gone on the warpath against Montgomery County, claiming that its restrictions against indoor dining have made it “an island all by themselves.” RAM points out that MoCo is now the only jurisdiction in the region to prohibit indoor dining and is seeking to have that policy overturned.

Are they right?

RAM blasts MoCo on Facebook.

RAM bases its case on MoCo’s declining COVID statistics. Its president told WTOP, “When you’re really looking at all the metrics that Montgomery County claims to be watching, we see good news and good signs.” And it’s true that the county has seen improvement on some measures according to its COVID dashboard.

RAM notes MoCo’s declining COVID stats.

But there are two caveats here. First, any improvements are coming from huge peaks. For example, the county’s COVID case rate has been falling for a couple weeks but it is still higher than it was in the spring, when restaurants were last shut down for indoor service.

MoCo’s COVID dashboard shows recent progress in case rate but it’s still high.

Second, RAM is comparing MoCo to other jurisdictions, alleging that the county is unusually harsh on restaurants. Well, if MoCo were unusually overrun by COVID, it might be justified in being more restrictive. Let’s test that.

The table below shows five data points from two sources. Johns Hopkins University compares counties across the nation on 14-day case rate per 100,000 residents, inpatient occupancy and intensive care unit (ICU) occupancy. The table shows how MoCo compares to twelve other major jurisdictions in the region on these measures. The State of Maryland tracks 7-day case rate per 100,000 residents and test positivity rate for its 24 local jurisdictions. The table shows how MoCo compares to six other large jurisdictions in the state on these measures.

On the three stats tracked by Johns Hopkins, MoCo is above average on inpatient occupancy and below average on ICU occupancy and 14-day case rate. On the two stats tracked by the State of Maryland, MoCo ranks 5th out of 7 peer jurisdictions. In other words, MoCo is not an outlier. It has not been hit unusually hard by COVID in comparison to the rest of the D.C.-Baltimore region.

That calls into question whether the county’s now-unique prohibition on indoor dining is justified. It also occurs in the historic context of the restaurant industry’s long-time frustration with the county’s unique wholesale monopoly on liquor sales, which is not currently the industry’s biggest problem but has nonetheless damaged the county’s reputation among restaurateurs. MoCo should consider revising its restaurant restrictions if it continues to make progress on its COVID metrics. If not, its reputation as a tough place to operate restaurants will only continue to grow.


Top Seventh State Stories, January 2021

By Adam Pagnucco.

These were the top stories on Seventh State in January ranked by page views.

1. Raskin Chief of Staff Writes About Attack on the Capitol
2. Are Maryland Vaccine Deliveries Fair?
3. State to Counties: Vaccinate Private School Staff or Else
4. What Happened to White Flint?
5. MoCo Solar Power Company Throws in the Towel
6. How Does MoCo’s Vaccination Rate Compare to the Rest of Maryland?
7. State Legislators Call on Harris to Resign
8. Political Awards 2020
9. MoCo’s Hero
10. Mizeur Threatens to Run Against Harris

This is a pretty concise list of what has been on the minds of MoCo’s political community: the attack on the Capitol, Jamie Raskin, vaccines and the movement to throw out Andy Harris. The story on the solar zoning text amendment reflects a split among environmentalists that is bound to resurface on future issues. As for White Flint, which was also the top story in December, that article demonstrates a major challenge that MoCo will face as it emerges from the pandemic: how to rebuild its economy and not lose any more ground to the rest of the region. Economic competitiveness was a big issue before COVID and it will return to that pedestal as the next election approaches.


State to Counties: Vaccinate Private School Staff or Else

By Adam Pagnucco.

Phase 1B of the state’s COVID vaccination schedule includes “education staff, including K-12 teachers, support staff and daycare providers.” Some counties are now starting vaccinations of school staff. The state’s Department of Health has just issued a warning to all county health officers and other vaccine providers that they must include private school staff in their vaccination programs or risk having their vaccines reallocated to other vaccine providers who comply. The state’s warning follows Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich’s announcement that his county is working with Johns Hopkins Medicine to vaccinate MCPS employees, a statement that makes no mention of private school staff.

The memorandum from Acting Secretary of Health Dennis R. Schrader to vaccine providers is reprinted below.


To: All Local Health Officers and all COVID-19 Vaccine Providers

From: Dennis R. Schrader, Acting Health Secretary
Dr. Jinlene Chan, Acting Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services

Cc: Dr. Karen Salmon, Ph.D., State Superintendent of Schools
Nonpublic Schools

Subject: Phase 1B: Educators – Vaccination of Nonpublic School Faculty and Staff

Date: January 30, 2021

It is the health policy of the State of Maryland that nonpublic schools may not be excluded from any COVID-19 vaccine provider who is administering COVID-19 vaccine to educators.

Any COVID-19 vaccine provider who refuses the vaccination of nonpublic school staff while administering vaccines to public school system employees will have future vaccine allocations reduced or reallocated to providers that comply with the MDH Vaccination Matters Order and COVID-19 Vaccine Provider Bulletins.

Please see the attached Week 8 bulletin, which states that “local health departments should set aside at least 100 doses per week from their overall location for Phase 1B educators in their jurisdiction. This allocation should be set aside until jurisdictions have vaccinated all of their educators.”

Additionally, please see Section 8, Education: page 9 of the bulletin, “Educational facilities include: licensed childcare facilities; K-12: both public school systems and nonpublic schools; and higher educational institutions.”


Why is West Virginia Doing a Better Job on Vaccination Than Maryland?

By Adam Pagnucco.

William A. Galston, a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution, has written an eye-opening piece on vaccine distribution comparing West Virginia to Maryland. In it, Galston notes that West Virginia ranks high on poverty rate, low on education rate and low on median income among U.S. states while Maryland is on the other end on all those measures. Yet, West Virginia “ranks 2nd in the share of its population that has been inoculated and has turned 83% of the doses received from the federal government into actual inoculations” while Maryland “ranks 35th for its inoculation rate and has delivered only 46% of doses received into its people’s arms, well below the national average of 53%.”

What accounts for the disparity?

Galston identifies two factors. First, he credits West Virginia for relying on a network of independent pharmacies to vaccinate nursing home residents rather than using CVS and Walmart, which the rest of the nation has done. Galston believes local pharmacies have more penetration into rural areas and closer relationships with nursing homes than national chains, resulting in better vaccination performance. The second factor has to do with the governance structures used by West Virginia and Maryland. Galston writes:

The second apparent explanation for West Virginia’s superior performance: decisions have been made by the governor at the state level, eliminating confusion and competition among localities. Starting January 25, a state-wide online site will allow all residents to register for vaccinations and will direct them to facilities with doses available. A week later, on February 1st, the state will expand its network of community clinics to cover all 55 of its counties.

In Maryland, by contrast, most of these issues have been left to its counties, each of which has established its own priority lists and facilities for administering the vaccine. Maryland’s system of strong county governance works well in normal times but is impeding vaccine delivery during this pandemic. As Maryland residents know, this diversity has created confusion and has given residents with access to multiple information sources advantages over those with weaker networks and less Internet access. A bewildering maze of online sites—some from counties, others from hospitals–has sprung up. Prince George’s County has closed its vaccination facilities to Marylanders who live outside its borders.

Galston has a point. One cannot overstate the level of confusion in Maryland about how to get vaccinated. Take a look at the state’s vaccine website, which says that we are in Phase 1C, which includes adults age 65-74 and essential workers in lab services, agriculture, manufacturing and the postal service. Now take a look at Montgomery County’s vaccine website, which says we are in Priority Group 1B, which includes adults age 75 and older. Prince George’s County’s site aligns with the state while Anne Arundel County’s site says, “Currently, the Anne Arundel County Department of Health is NOT in Phase 1C. The Department is providing vaccine appointments ONLY to the Phase 1A group and Phase 1B’s county residents who are age 75+.” Frederick County’s site says it is vaccinating “1A and people 75 years and older who live or work in Frederick County.” Baltimore County’s site says it is in Phase 1C. Howard County’s site says that Phase 1C has not begun and vaccinations for adults age 65-74 will begin in February. And so on. Baltimore City’s site seems to resemble the state’s but says that phases are “as of Jan. 25th, 2021. Phases subject to change due to CDC, MDH or FDA updated guidance.” So what’s true now might not be true tomorrow. Add to this the assorted residency and work requirements being imposed by counties and the disarray gets worse.

Then there are the hospitals, who as of last week had received twice as many vaccines as county health departments. Hospitals are responsible for vaccinating their staff and associates but what happens if they have left-over vaccines? I was recently forwarded an email that originated with a doctor at one of MoCo’s hospitals stating that they had a surplus of vaccines and had 16 appointment slots. The email spread like wildfire and the slots promptly filled up. Who knows who signed up? Enthusiasm quickly dried up when the hospital sent notice to those who registered that they had to provide proof of health care employment and had to sign legal attestation of eligibility.

Confusion and multiple opportunities for registration and preregistration have tempted some to sign up at every outlet they can find, reasoning that if just one of them pays off it will be worth it. In a briefing with the media yesterday, Montgomery County officials tried to persuade the public to avoid this practice because it would overbook appointments and clog the system. But with different entities administering vaccines and apparently different criteria and rules in place among them, why wouldn’t folks sign up everywhere they could hoping to get lucky?

The biggest single problem afflicting all states and counties is the nationwide shortage of vaccines, which the Biden administration is trying to fix through buying 200 million more of them. It’s also understandable that Maryland is relying on its existing system of counties and health care providers rather than trying to reinvent it in the middle of a huge vaccination push, which would undoubtedly create a whole other category of problems. But the conflicting information coming out of the state, its 24 local jurisdictions and other vaccine-administering entities is problematic. If it continues, it will hinder the efficiency of vaccine distribution and prolong the pandemic.