For months, Gov. Lawrence J. Hogan Jr. (R) has pushed Maryland’s schools to bring as many students back to class as quickly as possible.

On Thursday, he upped the ante, pledging to provide local school systems with “nearly one million” COVID-19 tests and “unlimited” personal protective equipment.

Hogan also announced that a third mass vaccination site will open in late February, less than a mile from a site that opened last Friday in downtown Baltimore. 

And he continued to push back against criticism from local leaders who have complained that the state is redirecting COVID-19 vaccine doses from county health departments to other sites. 

Speaking to reporters at the State House, Hogan also disclosed that he will attend a meeting in the Oval Office on Friday with President Biden and a group of governors and mayors. 

To “facilitate” school re-openings, Hogan said the state Departments of Health and Education were partnering to provide hundreds of thousands of coronavirus tests to any system — public or private — that wants to supplement an existing program or launch a new one. 

And he praised the 22 school districts that he said have begun to bring at least some children back for in-person instruction or have plans to do so by March 1. 

“I want to commend all of the teachers, administrators, parents and public health officials who are doing everything they can to give Maryland students the chance to get back safely into classrooms,” he said. 

While teachers are now eligible for COVID-19 vaccines, the state doesn’t have nearly enough doses. Hogan noted that the U.S. Centers for Disease Control does not require that teachers be vaccinated in order to return to in-person teaching. 

The governor pushed back again against criticism from local elected leaders — including the state’s local health officers — even as he underscored the steps Maryland is taking to get people of color vaccinated. 

He displayed a chart that showed how vaccines are being distributed in Montgomery County, noting pointedly that 27% are being administered by the health department and 73% are being given by others, including pharmacies, nursing homes, hospitals, assisted living facilities and others. 

“So when you hear — which we’ve heard over the past week or so — county leaders say that we only get ‘x’ number of doses for our county, it’s false,” Hogan said. “They’re actually referring to what their local health department received, not what their county has received.”

The governor accused local critics of seeking “sort of a monopoly on all the doses.” 

“That is absurd,” he said. “That is simply not a realistic way to vaccinate millions of people all across the state.” 

Local leaders have said that giving their health departments a robust share of vaccines helps insure that they get to targeted groups, including seniors, people with health and mobility challenges, people of color, first responders and teachers. 

Hogan announced that the state will open its third mass vaccination site on Feb. 25 at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, less than three-quarters of a mile from the Baltimore Convention Center site that opened last Friday. 

He said sites on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland and Southern Maryland will follow in the coming weeks. There was no reference to a site in the state’s largest county, Montgomery, a majority-minority community of more than 1 million people.

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said he’s not convinced the county needs a mass-vaccination site. 

“Between our own abilities, the hospitals, pharmacies and clinics we could probably put a ton of vaccine out and we have sites all over the county,” he said. 

The issue, of course, is a lack of supply, something all governors, mayors and local leaders are facing. 

Hogan stressed anew that the state has made extra efforts to reach people of color, particularly in major-Black jurisdictions — Baltimore City and Prince George’s and Charles counties. 

In addition to the opening of a mass vaccination site at Six Flag America in Largo, Hogan said the state reached out by phone to 2,000 Prince George’s residents whose names were provided by the county health department. 

“We hired contractors at the state level to call them all, three or four times over several days, made 6,000-some calls. Only 19 people registered for an appointment,” Hogan said. 

The governor said the state followed up with emails. “Very few people people took us up on it, but they did forward those emails to people outside the county, who immediately took them all up.” 

One Prince George’s official said the state’s approach was hurt by “poor outreach” — no voice messages or email address for people to contact if they missed the call. 

“My folks screen [their] calls,” said Council member Dannielle Glaros (D). “Too many scams targeting seniors.” 

By Bruce DePuyt