Baltimore City Officials Give COVID-19 Update
BRANDON SCOTT: Good morning, everyone. And thank you for being here on this Thursday morning, but more importantly on opening day for our Orioles, which just also happens to fall on my birthday this year. I look forward to later today celebrating in Camden Yards in person and supporting the Orioles as we beat the Dead Sox. Once again, thank the Orioles for their partnership and leadership and taking public health precautions to keep our team, fans, and the workers safe.
Slowing the spread of COVID-19 takes all hands on deck effort. And I'm honored to have the trusted partnership of the Orioles as we look out for out number one priority, the health and safety of Baltimorians. I'm here today to discuss a Baltimore Health Corps early lessons report and provide an update on COVID-19 with Dr. Dzirasa. We'll wait one second.
All right. I am also joined by Dr. Dzirasa, also joined by Jason Perkins Cohen, executive director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development. Welcome back to Baltimore. Mr. Otis Rolley senior vice president of the US Equity and Economic Opportunity Initiative for the Rockefeller Foundation, and Traci Kodeck CEO of HealthCare Access Maryland.
Baltimore Health Corps has been a blessing to our community since this pandemic began. Baltimore Health Corps pilot program launched in June, 2020 as a way to recruit, train, and employ 275 community health workers who were unemployed, furloughed, or underemployed. These people lived in our neighborhoods hardest hit by COVID-19. This partnership was between the health department, the Baltimore Civic Fund, Baltimore Corps, HealthCare Access Maryland, Jhpiego, the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, and the Mayor's office of Performance and Innovation.
As we continue to navigate this public health crisis, I remain encouraged by our partnership with the Baltimore Health Corps and the many funds who have played a critical role in Baltimore's recovery. As mayor and on behalf of the entire city of Baltimore, I thank you. Rooted in a all hands on deck approach, Baltimore Health Corps has been critical to addressing this pandemic. This is what an effective public private partnership looks like. And as with our approach to COVID-19 pandemic overall, the Health Corps has been grounded in equity.
We see that in how we have developed mobile texting, how we're continuing to vaccinate our residents and reach our most vulnerable communities, and how we're scaling up contract tracing. And at this time, I'd like to invite Dr. Dzirasa to say a few words about Baltimore Health Corps.
LETITIA DZIRASA: Good morning. And thank you, Mayor Scott. I also want to thank the University of Maryland, College Park School of Public Health for their assistance preparing the early lessons report for the Baltimore Health Corps program. This report offers key insight into the program's operations and shows how successful this model has been for Baltimore City. Among other observations, I want to emphasize the success in equitably scaling up a program that improve both public health and employment opportunities here in Baltimore City.
Our Baltimore Health Corps contact tracers have succeeded in improving the speed and efficiency of our contact tracing efforts here in the city. From the time our new tracers came on board back in August, we have seen at the rate of positive cases completing interviews rose from 67% to 73%. We also saw the number of contacts who were reached within 24 hours increase from 67% to 80%. And the number of contacts who completed an interview grew from 50% to 78%.
More than 70% of our new hires live here in the city. More than 65% are Black, Indigenous, and people of color. More than 85% were previously unemployed, furloughed, or underemployed. By focusing on equity and tapping Baltimore city's human capital, we have successfully scaled a program during a global pandemic that has significantly improved public health outcomes while showing the strength of Baltimore city's workforce. I want to thank all of our implementation partners and funders who helped make this possible. And I want to thank our Baltimore Health Corps team for their critical contributions in Baltimore city's response to COVID.
JASON PERKINS COHEN: Good morning. My name is Jason Perkins Cohen. I am the director of the Mayor's Office of Employment Development. And I want to thank you, Mayor Scott and Dr. Dzirasa and for the speakers yet to come. And I'm really thanking you for your courage because every jurisdiction has been dramatically impacted by the pandemic. Every city has contact tracers and every city has vaccination stations.
But what makes Baltimore's approach different than almost any city in the country is that we broke down the silo between the health impact of COVID and the economic impact of COVID. We were intentional about creating a model that was driven by equity, one of the Mayor Scott's pillars. We were driven to create a hiring process that gave opportunity to those that needed it most. Our workforce model designed to help solve a healthcare crisis.
I just want to briefly define what intentional means in this context. It means it was planned from the start. That was not planned from the start. It means it was planned from the start. It means that my office, the Mayor's Office of Employment Development, worked extremely closely with the organizations represented behind me. And they include the health department, HealthCare Access Maryland, Baltimore Corps, and Jhpiego to create an inclusive hiring process.
It means that we put, intentionally put, supports in place to make sure that those hired for this opportunity could be successful. That's not normally part of most hiring processes and certainly not part of other what other cities do. This includes behavioral health support, legal supports, and financial empowerment counseling. It also includes career navigations, members of our team who are there to help the employees plan for their professional future. Because part of the intentionality of this program is that these are transitional jobs.
But as we move beyond COVID, each of these employees is attached to a navigator who will work closely with them to make sure that they can be successful and transition to the next opportunity. And this is a model that can extend beyond the pandemic. We can use this model to incent to intentionally solve dual problems, equitably putting residents to work to make our city safer, to make our city cleaner, and rebuild our infrastructure. I look forward to coming back to share the next exciting chapter. And now I'd like to introduce Otis Rolley from the Rockefeller Foundation who was integral in starting this initiative. Thank you.
OTIS ROLLEY: Mr. Mayor, happy birthday. I want to say you cannot have a discussion about health equity without also dealing with economic equity. You cannot discuss the trauma and the result of COVID-19 on our bodies, our physical bodies, without also addressing the trauma it has had on our economic well-being, of our communities, of our families, and particularly of BIPOC populations.
Jason talked a little bit about how this model was very different from what you see around the country. And I think sometimes, Baltimore can be a little bit more humble than we need to be. Because the reality is this is in fact the model for what all of the country should be doing when it comes to addressing both the economic and the physical health related to COVID-19. The Rockefeller Foundation was so pleased to be able to participate in helping to support this endeavor.
It wasn't just a public private partnership. But it also showed how the municipal government could function in a way where it's not just the health department or not just employment development. There were no silos. From our design, to our recruitment, to how we measured and evaluated what we were doing, there was intentionality about not an equity lens, because lenses can come off and on. But equity is centered in what we were doing. And that's why I'm so excited about the work that has occurred here.
The foundation has a broad commitment to equity and closing the racial wealth gap, health equity in terms of the public health equity gap and also just how we can contribute to the overall well-being of those cities that are committed to advancing the interests of those who have historically been left behind. Baltimore is one of those cities.
And that's why, Mr. Mayor, over the last 12 months, we have committed $6 million in the city of Baltimore. And it's not just because it's my home or because my momma's here, but it's because the reality is that when you are doing the right thing, we want to amplify that and spread it out so that the other states, other cities, and the federal government can understand that there is a right way to correct what has been done in the past.
I'm excited to be a partner in this effort. And the Rockefeller Foundation is committed not just to this, but our continued commitment to the city of Baltimore as you put equity first, and in trying to advance the interests of your citizens. Thank you.
TRACI KODECK: Good afternoon. I'm Traci Kodeck, the CEO of HealthCare Access Maryland, a nonprofit based in Baltimore with the mission of making Maryland healthier by addressing health insurance enrollment, system navigation, and care coordination related to social determinants of health. For the past 24 years, HCAM has served Baltimore city residents with accessing health coverage and reducing barriers to improve health disparities such as food insecurity, transportation, behavioral health, and a multitude of other social needs.
As one of the key stakeholders in the Baltimore Health Corps Initiative, HCAM hired 43 community health workers to partner with contact tracers to support the needs of residents dealing with COVID-19. HCAM has an extensive compendium of resources across the city and surrounding jurisdictions to support the needs of those dealing with COVID-19. Our referrals were received through a variety of sources, including contact tracers, flu clinics, COVID testing sites. And recently, our team pivoted and began supporting outreach efforts in collaboration with the Baltimore City Health Department at the COVID-19 mobile vaccine sites.
77% of our cases are received through our call center with the highest needs, as you can imagine, being access to food, commodities such as clothing and supplies, wellness kits containing masks, personal protective equipment, hand sanitizer, and thermometers, quarantine support, utilities support, and housing needs. HCAM's mission is geared towards a public health focus and supporting the larger pandemic needs. We're extremely honored to be supporting the Baltimore Health Corps from a workforce development optic.
Our team has also received career navigation, financial counseling, and support from the Mayor's Office of Employment Development partners. We are proud that many of our community health workers have actually identified permanent employment, including one with the federal government, and one internally within another HCAM program. I would like to thank the Rockefeller Foundation and the local and national funders for supporting this key workforce development and public health initiative. I'm going to turn it back over to Mayor Scott. And we're also celebrating our 24th birthday this month. So happy birthday. Excuse me.
BRANDON SCOTT: And happy birthday to HCAM. Thank you, Traci. You can see that the Baltimore Health Corps early lessons report prepared-- you can see it prepared by the University of Maryland, College Park School of Public Health on the Rockefeller Foundation's website. And while most of the positions have been filled, the health department and HealthCare Access Maryland continue to hire community, health worker, and supervisor roles, particularly for Spanish speakers.
Those interested in applying or sharing the roles with their networks should visit baltimorecorps.org/baltimore-health-corps. Say that again. baltimorecorps.org/baltimore-health-corps. Now, and that corps C-O-R-P-S, C-O-R-P-S. Now before we can conclude, the Health Commission and I will provide a brief COVID-19 update for Baltimore city.
As a reminder, we still have a one stop shop vaccination portal for Baltimore city residents last week. We know this process of getting registered for a vaccine has been confusing. There have been many sites and links. And if you are a resident in Baltimore, we want to take that frustration away from you and just go to covax.baltimorecity.gov. Again, that's covax.baltimorecity.gov. Our team is actively working to connect people to available appointment slots and our clinical partners. Please visit the website covax.baltimorecity.gov and spread the word to everyone.
I'll turn it over to Dr. Dzirasa to discuss our metrics and vaccination status.
LETITIA DZIRASA: Thank you again, Mayor Scott for your leadership during these challenging times. And thanks to all of our partners for their efforts to improve the health of Baltimore city residents. To begin, I want to urge residents to preregister for vaccines. As Mayor Scott mentioned, we now have a new website where we are accepting all registrations. And every day, our staff and clinical partners are working to vaccinate residents. And as of this week, more than 28% of Baltimore City residents overall, and more than 50% of residents 60 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
More than 16% of all Baltimore city residents are fully vaccinated, while 32% of residents 60 and older are fully vaccinated. Beginning on Monday, April 12, all Baltimore city residents 16 and up will be eligible for vaccinations. And we urge every resident to preregister now at covax.baltimorecity.gov.
Previously you have heard me ask for your patience as we waited for the supply of vaccines to increase and worked on improving access through online portals. Today, we have some increased supply and a new sign up portal that is easier to use and more efficient in helping us match residents with appointments for vaccination. Again, if you have not been vaccinated already, please sign up at covax at baltimorecity.gov and either our team or one of our clinical partners will contact you to schedule an appointment as they become available.
As a reminder, if you have already registered with the Baltimore City Health Department, you do not need to use the new portal. You are already on our list. And our team will contact you. Eligible older adults, those who have intellectual or developmental disabilities, or their caregivers, should also fill out these interest forms which include a question about whether the individual seeking a vaccine is homebound. This information helps to inform our outreach efforts over the weeks to come.
Those individuals can also still call our Maryland access point hotline at 410-396-2273 if they do not have access to the internet. And a representative will help them fill out their form. We are working on creating a hotline for all city residents to use for assistance with registration. And we'll share the details once they become available.
The good news of vaccine availability comes during concerning rise of new case counts. As of yesterday, our latest seven day average new case count is 219 cases per day, a 160% increase from four weeks ago. Our latest seven day average positivity is 4.4%, an increase of 138% from four weeks ago. Fatalities due to COVID are now averaging two deaths per day. And as of yesterday, we have lost 861 lives to COVID-19 and have seen 45,947 confirmed cases of COVID-19 here in Baltimore.
For context, we are now approaching case counts similar to what we saw in January, except cases and hospitalizations are now more and more occurring in younger populations. As stated last week, younger cohorts, those between the ages of 20 and 29 and 40 to 49 specifically remain the leaders in new COVID-19 cases.
With the change in weather, it is tempting to pretend that we have gotten through the pandemic. Our data shows what happens when the simple harm reduction rules that have protected our residents for so long are thrown out the window. What we're seeing are unvaccinated residents not heed the warnings to keep their distance, wear a mask, and wash their hands. Indoor gatherings unless everyone is vaccinated are still strongly discouraged. Wearing a mask is still critical for protecting yourself and those around you from infection.
There's no longer an excuse for ignorance. At this point, everyone should be well aware of the guidance that will save lives because public health officials and elected leaders have been saying this for over a year. At every single press conference, we have asked residents to wear masks, to practice social distancing, to avoid large gatherings, and to wash your hands. Please stay home if you're not feeling well. Get tested if you're having symptoms of COVID-19 or have been exposed to someone with symptoms of COVID-19.
It's no longer a question of whether individuals know how to reduce transmission. It's a question of whether city residents are willing to do it. Please, Baltimore, follow the public health guidance to save lives. And when you can, get vaccinated. Thank you.
BRANDON SCOTT: Thank you. And now we'll take questions.
BRANDON SCOTT: Well, first I think that the governor should actually have the facts and stop trying to answer things in what I call cookie cutter comments. This is about doing this in a responsible way. It's not about defund. I know that the governor loves these Republican talking points. But this is about re-imagining what public safety is in Baltimore. As you know, I have asked the governor for meetings about public safety. He decided that that meeting should be just between staffs. And I understand that my staff and his staff had a good meeting. But I'm still hoping that he and I get to discuss that at length.
We have to understand, especially as we sit here on my birthday, that this city has operated the way that it has every single year of my life. And every single year of my life, we've been one of the most violent cities in our country. This is not about defunding. This is about reimagining public safety.
And as I said, when we announced that we should do this last year, this isn't a new thing. It is about doing it in a responsible way so that we can reallocate funding, making efficiencies in our police department, making sure that they have the technology that they need, making sure that they are responding out to the things that they should be responding out to.
But in a city that has the world class health institutions that we have, our police department should not be the first ones going out to things with overdose and mental health. We have the best people in the world to do that. We are going to still have a police department. And what we're talking about is putting a group of people together to see how we can responsibly reimagine our city budget so that the burden is not solely on the police. And if the governor wants to actually have a real conversation about that, he knows how to get a hold of me. Alexa?
- Well, that kind of took my question. But maybe you could elaborate just a little bit more on why five years. Is there something behind five years?
BRANDON SCOTT: No. It's about, Alexa, it's about doing it responsibly. This is not about today saying, OK. Yeah. We're going to take $100 million and give it away to another agency. It's about doing it in a responsible way that does--
The way that we're going to do this is analyze it to see how these things are possible, where they are possible, how we're going to do it, and be a city that understands the way that I do, the way that the governor does not because he's never had that gun in his face, understands the violence in the city, understands how we need to support the police department and make them a better police department, understands that we're in a federal consent decree.
We're going to do this in a way that honors all of that, public safety, consent decree, the things that are going on while also understanding that we have to change the way that we operate so that we are impacting everything in our city that ties to the public sector.
- But Mayor, you have the power of the purse now. So why wait for the governor to give up control?
BRANDON SCOTT: No. It's not-- the control, Lisa, is different than the purse. The city of Baltimore is the only, as of right now, and has been, as you know, I've been talking about this for 10 years, the only jurisdiction in the country that does not control-- I mean in the state, and only one of two in the country, that does not locally control its police department. What folks are doing who where they're trying to attach one to the other is conflict issues.
The power of the purse issue is different than local control. Making sure that we are analyzing how we do our budget in a responsible way so that we can look at it over a five year period to do the right thing for our citizens is separate than local control, something that we should have had a long time ago here in Baltimore city. So for all the folks, especially folks on the state side who like to say like, oh. The city hasn't done this with its police, and this and that, well, actually it's been them that has been sitting on the sidelines while we have been here busting our butts every day.
And that's what I'd like to say about that.
- So through an election and the public helping to decide, you don't want to do it unilaterally deal with funding. You want the people of the city to help you decide.
BRANDON SCOTT: The funding, Alicia-- take a step back. The local control isn't done yet. It has to happen via charter amendment. But there's also going to be an advisory group that I'm going to appoint to talk about local control, all the details in local control, what kind of, what version, what things are going to happen there. In addition to that, I am adding onto that group tasking them with-- I'm going to be tasking them with looking at our budget and how we budget and police, looking for efficiencies, looking for how we can reimagine public safety and put things where they need to be in other agencies if needed.
This is not something where we're coming in and saying, this is what we're doing. We're actually going to do the tough work that quite frankly should have been done when I was in high school and looking up how the city budgets and reimagine it in a responsible way. This is not something that we're going to do overnight. We are going to be-- I do everything this way, making sure that we're making every step necessary.
Because anybody who thinks that the way the city government has been operating for the 37 years that I've been alive is the right way is a fool.
- So you're 37 today.
BRANDON SCOTT: Yes.
BRANDON SCOTT: Yes ma'am.
- Can I ask Dr. Dzirasa something? Can you tell me where you think we are as far as herd immunity and when we might reach it, and if you have certain benchmarks along the way that'll tell you we're on the right path?
- Sure. Sure. I can say roughly, and again, much of this is data that I've gotten from some of my colleagues who write reports at Hopkins. But roughly about a third of the population I mentioned has had at least one dose. We know that it takes at least two weeks post second dose if it's a two dose regimen to actually be immune. So I wouldn't say that all of that 30% or almost 30% are fully immunized.
We also know that there's a percent of the population who has had COVID, and therefore has some level of immunity as a result of having COVID. And that is what's the number that's harder to know. So it's harder to kind of say. So from, again, and this is reports from colleagues, maybe 20% to 25% of the city has some level of immunity. Our goal is at least 70%. And we've actually set a goal of having 80% of all of the population vaccinated by early next year.
That also takes into account children and knowing that the vaccine is not yet available for those under the age of 16. So we're a few months out from that. And children make up about 20% of the city's population. So again, we set a lofty goal of 80% being vaccinated. The CDC says somewhere between 60% to 80% is needed for herd immunity.
- And what are the remaining barriers to achieving this?
- So I mean, I think certainly access to vaccines still remains an issue. We've seen a supply increase definitely. But we also know that access is an issue in that not everyone can go necessarily to a mass vaccination site. So that's why we've done our mobile response teams to senior housing sites with expansion now to some of our public housing sites. We also know that eligibility was limited. It's about to open up. But certainly we'll see eligibility open up and so that all adults in Maryland will be eligible early next week.
So I think that will make a difference as well. But access still remains a issue, not the same issue it was a month ago, but nonetheless is still an issue.
- And do you think that's more an issue than hesitancy?
- I think that there's certainly vaccine deliberation. So in conjunction with the work we're doing on our mobile response teams, we also have a education campaign. And we have leads for all of our special populations, Latinx community, our Orthodox Jewish community, our individuals with intellectual disabilities who are working to ensure that our message is targeted for those specific groups. But I don't know that it's vaccine deliberation so much as it's ensuring access and eligibility at this point.