July 10, 2020
Since the beginning of the COVID-19 public health emergency, one of my constant refrains has been that there is no difference between public health and economic viability. As conversations around reopening schools have moved to the forefront of the national conversation, I firmly believe that principle applies to schools as well.

With new coronavirus cases reaching daily highs across the country, I urge all Marylanders to continue carefully assessing risk in our daily actions. After cases leveled off in recent weeks, we are now seeing them begin to slowly increase again as the state reopens and testing increases.

With just over a month and a half until schools are set to reopen, case count will invariably have an impact on the decisions by local school districts. We each have a responsibility to prioritize the education of Maryland's children and our actions over the next few weeks will help to determine if reopening school buildings is safe for students, educators, and support staff.
November Election Update
On Wednesday, Governor Hogan announced that the November Election will held in person with all polling locations open on Election Day and mail-in ballot applications being sent to all registered voters in advance. I am deeply worried about this approach to the November election from standpoints of both an added administrative burden to local election boards, as well as the safety of voters and volunteers.

While I'm glad that the Governor didn't wait any longer to make a decision so planning can commence immediately, Speaker Adrienne Jones and I have concerns that local election officials will not have the staff or resources to process that many Vote By Mail applications in a timely manner.

The Governor must provide the necessary resources to the local and state boards for personal protective equipment, additional staff and a robust awareness campaign. We hope the Governor will maintain maximum flexibility so that, should the pandemic worsen, or Election Judges are unable to be found, we can pivot to ensure that no Maryland voter is disenfranchised.
Potential Plans for Next School Year
MSDE Superintendent, Dr. Salmon, joined local superintendents including Baltimore City Schools CEO, Dr. Santelises, to brief the Senate Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee on preparations for the next school year. It was abundantly clear over the two hour hearing just how complex the issue of potentially reopening school buildings truly is.

There is an obligation for school districts to bridge the digital divide while also ensuring that communities of color, students with disabilities, and English language learners do not continue to face a disproportionate negative impact. At the same time, those efforts must be done according to public health guidance for the safety of all those who would be in the buildings

Among the options for next school year are the reopening of buildings, continuing distance learning, or some hybrid model of those options. Baltimore City Schools announced this week that they are leaning towards that hybrid model with an A/B schedule for different groups of students to attend class in-person two days a week, as well as providing an entirely virtual option for students, or families who are at high risk.

While that is the current proposal, a decision is far from being made and will be based on input from families. Parents whose students attend Baltimore City Schools are encouraged to complete this survey by July 13th to have their voices heard.
Board of Public Works Budget Cuts
The Maryland Board of Public Works (BPW) met last week to take up the first round of potential budget cuts facing the State as a result of lost revenue due to COVID-19. While over $200 million in cuts to education funding were avoided at that meeting, the BPW cut $413 million including money for violence prevention programming in Baltimore City, higher education, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.

Unless the federal government takes action, what we saw last week is a forecast of things to come. The COVID-19 crisis has wreaked havoc on state budgets throughout the country and we will face more cuts without help. I am appreciative that Comptroller Franchot and Treasurer Kopp mitigated the worst of the cuts, and am hopeful the Board of Public Works can continue to carefully evaluate potential cuts and their effects on Marylanders as they move forward.
COVID-19 Workgroup, Testing, and Resources
The Joint COVID-19 Response Legislative Workgroup met on Wednesday to hear from experts from the Maryland Department of Health, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Health Facilities Association of Maryland (HFAM). Particularly noteworthy information from the hearing includes:

  • A promise from the Maryland Department of Health to have contact tracing data publicly available next week on their coronavirus website
  • HFAM noting that its members are still having issues acquiring necessary personal protective equipment
  • A warning from Dr. Lessler that coronavirus cases are increasing again in Maryland as the State reopens and people are less cautious
Based on guidance from the Maryland Department of Health, testing for COVID-19 is becoming more accessible to catch early cases and those that may be asymptomatic. Free testing is still available at Pimlico Racetrack on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 8:30am-12:30pm and at the Baltimore Convention Center on Wednesdays and Fridays from 8am-2pm. No doctor's order is required and walk-ups are accepted, though appointments are preferred. You can sign up for an appointment here .
There are a few resources for individuals and families impacted by COVID-19 that I hope you will share widely:

  • First, a Covid-19 Financial Relief Guide for Marylanders that describes certain financial relief programs, consumer protections, and links to other resources and information available. 
  • Second, a new online tool provided by the US Department of Labor to help determine Families First Coronavirus Relief Act eligibility. You can access this new tool here.
  • Third, a list of summer meal sites and additional food resources available to Baltimore City residents, check out the list that City Schools' compiled.
  • Fourth, Baltimore City's rental assistance program is taking applications through July 13th. Check to see if you're eligible by going to DHCD's website.
More Highlights
I look forward to joining neighborhood organizations in every corner of District 46 over the next month! If you live in any of these communities, I hope to see you there and look forward to answering your questions about the 2020 Legislative Session, Maryland's response to COVID-19, and anything else that comes to mind.

In case you missed my latest Facebook Live chat, I was joined by Dr. Frances "Toni" Draper, publisher of the AFRO newspaper and Pastor of Freedom Temple AME Zion Church last week. It was a fascinating conversation where we discussed how COVID-19 is impacting the faith community as guidance has evolved and The AFRO-American newspapers' operations. You can check out the conversation here .

Read more about my reaction to Governor Hogan's election announcement in this piece by Rachel Baye of WYPR .

I remain immensely concerned about the high positive testing rate in Maryland's Latinx community, as detailed by the Baltimore Brew , and cannot adequately stress the importance of getting tested to protect yourself, as well as those around you.

Similarly, rates of positive tests among Maryland's young people could be an indication of what's to come, as we have seen similar increases across the country. Read more here in an article by The Daily Record.

The University of Maryland announced that the vast majority of classes will be held online next semester with only about 20% of smaller undergraduate courses meeting in-person. You can learn more in The Baltimore Sun here .
Please do not hesitate to contact my office if there is anything we can do to help via email at bill.ferguson@senate.state.md.us , or phone via (410) 841-3600 by leaving a voicemail to be returned promptly.