- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 5, 2021

Both Maryland and Virginia will require state workers to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination or undergo regular coronavirus testing, the states’ governors announced Thursday. 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said the policy will apply to state employees who work in congregate facilities. Employees who don’t show proof of vaccination will face strict mask mandates and ongoing coronavirus testing, he said. 

“These actions are being taken to further protect our most vulnerable citizens,” the Republican governor said at a press conference. “The state will lead by example with our own employees who are working in congregate facilities.” 

The new protocols will apply to 48 facilities across Maryland including state health centers, juvenile and correctional services, and the Department of Veterans Affairs. 

They take effect Sept. 1, the deadline for employees to receive the first vaccine dose. 

In Virginia, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam also announced vaccine and testing requirements for state employees, which begin Sept. 1 as well. State workers who aren’t fully vaccinated will be tested for COVID-19 every week under the new policy, which will affect about 122,000 employees. 

The policy applies to workers at executive branch agencies such as the Department of Motor Vehicles and Virginia Employment Commission and some staff at public colleges, Mr. Northam’s spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky told the Associated Press. However, it will not apply to legislative or judicial branch employees or workers in K-12 schools. 

“I am directing this measure to keep state employees safe and to keep the people that we serve safe,” Mr. Northam said during a COVID-19 briefing. “And I really encourage local governments and private companies to do the same thing. There is no reason why we need to see more suffering and sickness, not when safe, effective, free vaccines are readily available.

“The time for waiting is over,” he said. “So please, protect yourself and the people around you. Get vaccinated.” 

The order comes a day after Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney said city workers will have to get inoculated or face disciplinary action. 

Mr. Northam and Mr. Hogan cited concerns about the highly transmissible delta variant of the coronavirus, which health officials blame for driving up infections mostly among the unvaccinated. 

“The delta variant is without question far more serious than the original COVID-19,” said Mr. Hogan, adding the strain makes up nearly 100% of new COVID-19 cases in Maryland. “We also understand that it may cause more severe illness than the earlier variants. We do need to take the delta variant very seriously.” 

The Virginia Department of Health on Thursday reported COVID-19 infections in more than 702,800 people, including more than 1,700 new cases. 

Maryland has confirmed about 700 coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours for a total of about 471,300 cases as of Thursday, state health data shows. More than 330 people are currently hospitalized from COVID-19. 

The delta strain is two to four times more contagious than earlier coronavirus variants, said Dr. Jinlene Chan, deputy secretary of public health services for the Maryland Department of Health. People infected with the delta variant also have more virus in them and can shed the virus for a longer period of time, she said. 

Even though COVID-19 cases are climbing, they are much lower than during the peak of the pandemic. 

Almost 73% of Virginia adults are partially vaccinated while 54% of all residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. In Maryland, nearly 78% of adult residents are partially vaccinated while nearly 55% of the population are fully vaccinated, state health department data shows. 

Although Maryland’s policy does not apply to the private sector, Mr. Hogan strongly urged the more than 200 privately operated nursing homes in the state to implement similar vaccine requirements for their employees, pointing out rising numbers of infections among unvaccinated staff. Businesses and workplaces across the state will be able to set their own COVID-19 policies and safety measures. 

Maryland currently does not plan to impose new mask mandates or shutdowns, Mr. Hogan added. 

The District has not imposed a vaccine requirement on most of its city employees, although Attorney General Karl A. Racine said Wednesday that his staff must get the shot by Sept. 13 ahead of resuming in-person work, according to media reports. 

Last week, D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser issued a directive for people ages 2 and older to wear masks indoors regardless of their vaccination status to curb rising COVID-19 infections. The directive went into effect Saturday. 

D.C. officials also released updated school guidance requiring all face coverings indoors for public, charter, private, parochial and independent schools.

Almost 65% of D.C. residents are at least partially vaccinated, while an estimated 51% are fully vaccinated. More than 50,900 residents have tested positive from COVID-19 as of Wednesday while about 1,150 have died from the respiratory illness. As of Tuesday, 33 D.C. residents were hospitalized for the coronavirus.  

• This article is based in part on wire service reports. 

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