March 19, 2022
Dear Fellow Marylanders:
We are at a critical decision point in our battle against COVID-19. While still losing far too many Marylanders to the virus, we have reached a stage where most of us are able to resume many of the daily activities we used to regard as normal. But the sustained pushback against COVID is about to run out of funding.
Over the last two years, our communities in Maryland and elsewhere around the country took necessary mitigation measures. Health care and frontline workers gave everything they had to care for our loved ones. And the Biden administration, funded through the American Rescue Plan, worked to ensure we had the resources necessary to continue to adapt to combat COVID-19.
Based on new and evolving data, the CDC recently adopted new guidelines and a county classification system with low, medium, and high designations to help Americans understand the risk of COVID-19 in their area. This will boost the understanding of what precautions may still be advisable.
According to the CDC, all of Maryland’s counties presently are classified as “low,” which means individuals are encouraged to stay up-to-date on vaccines and get tested if you have COVID-19 symptoms. For “medium” counties, the CDC additionally recommends that those at risk of severe illness discuss wearing masks and taking further precautions with their healthcare provider.
In light of the reduced COVID-19 transmission, I encourage you to take the opportunity we have now to reconnect with friends and family and resume some missed activities. We still want to keep everyone safe though, so we should integrate into our new normal the reality that certain pandemic mitigation measures, like wearing masks in indoor settings, might be necessary for short periods to control new outbreaks and future surges. Many Marylanders have children who are too young to be vaccinated, are immunocompromised, or are otherwise at high risk, so they may not be able to resume normal activities.
Overall, we have made significant strides in fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, but the threat is not over. While positivity rates and hospitalizations are decreasing, we still have Marylanders dying each day from the virus.
Additionally, new variants continue to emerge. Countries across Europe and Asia have seen new spikes in cases due to a more contagious version of Omicron, known as BA.2. We could soon see a renewed surge, as we are oftentimes only weeks behind rising cases in Europe. And this latest sub-variant already makes up 23% of U.S. cases. Fortunately, at this stage, BA.2 appears no more severe than the original Omicron variant.
In order to respond rapidly to emerging variants, however, we must keep financing pandemic prevention and response needs. The White House and Department of Health and Human Services have made it clear that at this stage, at least $22.5 billion of additional funding is required to replenish pandemic prevention programs that are nearing depletion or have already been depleted. They have said that without these funds, the White House will be forced to cut back on crucial aspects of its pandemic response. Our national testing capacity will be reduced, leaving us vulnerable and less able to detect emerging variants and making it harder to diagnose infections early enough to take effective treatments. Also, uninsured individuals may no longer be able to access vaccines, tests, and treatments for free.
In addition to testing and acute care, funding for vital COVID-19 research will be impacted if sufficient funding is not provided. Continued development of new medications and vaccines is critical, but without additional funding, research will stop – leaving us potentially vulnerable to a variant resistant to our current arsenal.
Specifically, the Bethesda-based National Institutes of Health (NIH) may be forced to shut down some of its COVID-19 research. The FDA recently granted an emergency use authorization for a new monoclonal antibody treatment that is effective against the Omicron variant. But without the additional funding, the government will be unable to continue to order monoclonal antibody treatments, vital therapies for immunocompromised patients, and antiviral pills, all of which are already in short supply. Funding also is critically important in allowing us to be leaders in distributing vaccinations across the world in order to prevent more and worse variants from taking off and arriving on our shores.
I will continue to fight to ensure we get additional COVID-19 funding. The American Rescue Plan demonstrated our ability to pass legislation to quickly ramp up pandemic response efforts and effectively mitigate the negative economic impact of the pandemic. This legislation has been critical in helping individuals and communities respond to the challenges brought on by the pandemic. Local governments have been called on to provide essential services at an unprecedented level, and they have risen to the occasion without falling into financial despair because of the American Rescue Plan. Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas.
Continued vigilance and caution are key parts of the new normal. I am hopeful because we have learned enough about this virus to know that vaccinations, booster shots, tests, and personal protective equipment can blunt the impact of new waves. As I have throughout these past two years, I will work to secure vital resources to fight the COVID-19 pandemic and ensure those who are struggling from the economic effects or emotional toll have the necessary support going forward.
Get vaccinated and boosted. Keep washing your hands regularly. Wear a mask when you think necessary. And stay safe.