Maryland mandates vaccines for nursing home, hospital staff
ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — All workers at Maryland hospitals and nursing homes will be required to get vaccinated or submit to regular coronavirus testing as cases climb around the state and the nation, Republican Gov. Larry Hogan announced Wednesday.
“We are concerned that the delta variant surge has led to an increase in infections among nursing home staff, which has been a consistent source of the outbreaks in these facilities,” Hogan said. “Our main focus has always been, and continues to be, reducing hospitalizations and deaths, particularly among our most vulnerable Marylanders.”
The requirement affects the state’s 227 nursing homes and all hospital systems, though some of the largest systems already imposed vaccine mandates. Workers must get their first dose of the vaccine no later than Sept. 1 or undergo regular screening and testing for the virus, Hogan said at a news conference Wednesday. Nursing homes that don’t comply will face doubled fines, higher civil penalties and tougher enforcement actions, he said.
While 79% of all nursing home staffers have already been vaccinated, the rates vary widely. The governor noted that 18 Maryland facilities have average vaccination rates of 95% or higher, but the 10 lowest average only 48.9%, with the lowest at 40%. These “unacceptable” low rates of vaccination are endangering the lives of nursing home residents, Hogan said.
Health Facilities Association of Maryland President Joe DeMattos thanked Hogan at the news conference for imposing the mandate amid the challenges of the coronavirus surge, saying that vaccination is the “single best tool” to fight COVID-19 and avoid hospitalization and death.
“Your announcement today will save lives,” DeMattos said.
It comes just as Democratic President Joe Biden’s administration has said it would require nursing homes to mandate vaccinations for staffers in order to continue receiving federal funds. Hundreds of thousands of nursing home workers remain unvaccinated nationwide, despite the heightened risk of fatal infections among elderly residents.
About two weeks ago, Hogan announced that state employees at prisons, hospitals and other congregate settings would be required to get vaccinated or get tested regularly. At this point, a mandate for all state workers isn’t needed, but they keep watching it, he said.
Officials aren’t considering indoor masking requirements, Hogan said.
“Being 80% vaccinated we think is a good step, and if we can get the rest of the people vaccinated we won’t have to revert back to things we needed a year ago when we didn’t have vaccines,” he said.
State officials are also pressing the FDA to make booster shots available immediately for seniors and vulnerable people, to expedite the approval of vaccines for 5- to 11 year-olds with more children heading back to school and for full approval of vaccines, Hogan said.
“The lack of full approval remains the most significant hurdle to reaching those who are still hesitant,” he said. “Full approval would be a significant boost to our vaccine distribution operation.”
Hogan also announced the launch of a statewide antibody testing program for nursing home residents.