Dear Fellow Marylanders,
I started writing these letters in March 2020 to share helpful information about COVID-19 and how the federal, state and local governments were attempting to marshal resources to keep everyone in this country safe.
By the time of my first email, months after the virus had made its way into our country, Congress had finally prodded the Trump administration into declaring a national emergency, and the World Health Organization (WHO) officially declared the spread of COVID-19 a global pandemic.
It had been more than 100 years since a deadly pandemic was allowed to spread throughout the U.S. population. At the start of COVID-19, we had no idea how many lives would be lost in this country due to response delays and futile attempts by President Trump to ignore the reality of this crisis.
In my first letter, I urged you to “Be patient. Be smart. Think of those more vulnerable than you before you engage in activities that might put someone’s health at risk.” More than three years later, my letters have morphed into a weekly opportunity to discuss what is happening in our state and in our nation’s capital on a wide range of topics.
My advice to be patient, be smart and think of others still holds, though, even as President Joe Biden lifted the federal public health emergency earlier this week. We are entering a new phase in this pandemic.
How did we reach this point? In the past three years, legislation was enacted by Congress, including the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, and the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).
Collectively, along with other initiatives, these legislative packages provided relief and flexibilities to Marylanders, and all Americans, during unprecedented times.
Thanks to these laws, we reduced child poverty and homelessness; tackled food insecurity nationwide; helped small businesses and restaurants keep their doors open; and looked after one another.
Maryland state and local governments received more than $12.8 billion in funds from the American Rescue Plan Act alone to reopen schools, increase broadband access, help protect front-line workers, bolster economic recovery, supplement unemployment benefits and so much more.
In addition, over the last two years, the Biden-Harris administration executed an unprecedented vaccination program, helping get at least one dose of the COVID-19 shot into the arms of nearly 270 million Americans.
Americans still are affected by COVID-19 today, but because of the Biden-Harris administration’s comprehensive efforts, supported by Congress, we are in a better place than we were three years ago and can transition away from the emergency phase of our response.
Since January 2022, when the omicron variant was affecting our communities, daily COVID-19 reported cases are down 92 percent, COVID-19 deaths have declined by over 80 percent, and new COVID-19 hospitalizations are down nearly 80 percent as of February 2023.
The end of a formal public health emergency does not mean we can let our guard down. This past week, more than 70 Marylanders were hospitalized with COVID-19. Nationwide, there are about 1,000 deaths related to COVID-19 each week. Long-COVID still afflicts many with a variety of symptoms. Experts also are warning that the U.S. could see another omicron-like surge in the coming years.
For this reason, the Biden-Harris administration has invested in Project Next Gen (PNG), a new $5 billion initiative intended to create better vaccines and monoclonal antibody treatments against COVID-19 as the virus evolves. Health experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and WHO also will continue to monitor cases and changes in the variant in the U.S. and globally.
You will see some changes as we transition away from the public health emergency and some of the emergency-related flexibilities end or wind down.
For instance, to respond to the public health emergency, Medicaid and the Maryland Children’s Health Program (MCHP) continued to cover beneficiaries even if their eligibility lapsed. Over the next year, Maryland will be making eligibility reviews again.
If you or a family member are enrolled in Medicaid or MCHP plans, check to make sure your contact information is up to date to ensure you receive your health insurance renewal notice.
Additionally, vaccines, COVID-19 tests and therapeutics will continue to be available, but you may find changes to copays, depending on your health coverage. More details can be found here at the CDC website.
Vaccinations continue to be the most important tool to protect against the virus, so check if you are eligible for a booster. Hint: most of us are.
How else did we reach this point? It was thanks to the dedication and selflessness of frontline and essential workers; local, state, and federal agencies; and all those who kept our communities running and safe during the worst of this pandemic. We appreciate their work and their sacrifice throughout this historic crisis and beyond.
We may no longer need to “Hunker Down” but let’s keep up the frequent handwashing. We are all better for it. And be smart. The COVID-19 virus is still out there, so think before you jump into a potentially unsafe situation.
We still are all in this together.
Thank you. Please feel free to reply to this email with your thoughts on this issue or any other topic on your mind. I appreciate all the comments and feedback.