Hogan says it wasn’t his decision to overturn Montgomery County’s private school closure order last month

Hogan says it wasn’t his decision to overturn Montgomery County’s private school closure order last month

Governor says most at-risk populations will receive COVID-19 vaccine when it is available

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Gov. Larry Hogan spoke at the Novavax headquarters in Gaithersburg on Thursday.

Photo by Dan Schere

Gov. Larry Hogan on Thursday said that it wasn’t his decision to prevent Montgomery County officials from requiring that private schools remain closed during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Hogan spoke to reporters after touring the Gaithersburg headquarters of Novavax, a biotechnology company that was awarded a $1.6 billion federal government contract to help with the development of a COVID vaccine.

Between July 31 and Aug. 7, Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles twice tried to pass health orders requiring that private schools in the county remain closed for in-person instruction at least through Oct. 1.

After Gayles issued his first order on July 31, Hogan passed an order of his own three days later that banned blanket private school closures by local jurisdictions.

Gayles then issued his second order, which cited a different part of the law, on Aug. 5. Maryland Health Secretary Robert Neall responded by issuing a memo stating that private schools in the state shouldn’t be closed in a “blanket manner.” Gayles rescinded his second order the day after Neall’s memo.

As of last Friday, the county has been investigating more than two dozen possible of COVID-19 cases at private schools, and 12 have reported confirmed cases, Gayles said.

When a reporter asked Hogan on Thursday about criticism of his administration’s banning of Gayles’ orders, Hogan said the county was responsible for rescinding its own order.

“It wasn’t my decision [to rescind the order], but we just weighed in and they decided themselves they were gonna do that,” he said.

Hogan continued by saying that the state’s test positivity rates have continued to decrease and that its health metrics were “the best in the country.”

“All 24 of our public school jurisdictions have now made decisions and have submitted plans, which were approved yesterday by the Maryland Department of Education, to at least begin bringing some students safely back into schools,” he said.

Hogan added that the state hasn’t “had a problem with schools so far.”

“But we have very detailed plans from the Maryland Department of Health and the Maryland State Department of Education about what to do if a student becomes infected in a classroom or a school, and the smart people at the local level are very capable and have plans about what to do, as well,” he said.

County Executive Marc Elrich, who attended Thursday’s event, said in an interview afterward that state officials gave the county “very little latitude” in making decisions about private schools.

“There was no guidelines, so he [Hogan] didn’t give us anything we could use to measure whether they had met state criteria because they didn’t have state criteria,” he said.

Elrich said he continues to worry about high test positivity rates in the county among those 20 and younger, particularly those in enclosed spaces for hours at a time.

“If you’re in classrooms, that’s probably one of the least good environments, and we haven’t figured out how to deal with the air issue and air exchanges,” he said.

Novavax was awarded a $1.6 billion contract in early July for late-stage clinical development of a vaccine. CEO Stanley Erck said Thursday that he doesn’t have an exact timetable for when the vaccine will be available, but it will likely be in early 2021.

Hogan said the state is in “advanced planning” to order, acquire and administer the vaccine as soon as possible. The most at-risk populations, he said, will receive the vaccine first, including:

Residents and staff members of nursing home, long term care, assisted care and senior day care facilities

  • front line health workers
  • essential workers
  • education workers
  • other staff and congregate living facilities

Gaithersburg Mayor Jud Ashman, who was at Thursday’s event, said in an interview that he “couldn’t be more proud” of the work Novavax is doing.

“The idea that the vaccine that we’ve all been waiting for could come out of Gaithersburg is extremely exciting. We commonly refer to ourselves as the greatest city in the world, and this would be a feather in the cap,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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