Governor of Maryland Larry Hogan revealed Thursday that the state’s National Guard is protecting 500,000 coronavirus tests flown in from South Korea at a secret location over concerns that the federal government will interfere and confiscate them.
Hogan and his Korean-born wife Yumi worked with South Korean authorities over 22 days to secure half a million tests for his state after conflict between governors and the Trump administration about the level of testing being made available.
The tests landed at Baltimore-Washington International Airport on April 18 where Hogan revealed the National Guard and state police had established a ‘Fort Knox’ like protection over them.
This was the first Korean Air plane to ever land in the airport as the governor said he wanted to avoid the tests having to cross over state lines because of previous reports of the federal government interjecting to confiscate equipment.
‘It was just so important to us. We were making sure that that plane took off from Korea safely, landed in America safely and that we guarded that cargo from anyone who might interfere with us getting it to our most in need,’ the governor told the Washington Post.
‘We landed it there with a large contingent of Maryland National Guard and Maryland State Police,’ Hogan, a Republican, added.
‘Because this was an enormously valuable payload. It was like Fort Knox to us because it’s going to save the lives of thousands of citizens.
There had been reports of, for example in Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker told the story of his planeload that came in with masks was basically confiscated by the federal government,’ Hogan continued.
‘He then had to get Robert Kraft, the owner of the Patriots, to fly in a second mission on a private plane to try and bring that equipment in and there were a couple of other state with similar stories.’
On April 3, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker revealed that Kraft arranged a shipment of more than 1 million N95 masks after the federal government seized a previous order bound for the Bay State.
Baker said the state had put in an order for masks with BJ’s Wholesale Club.
The order landed in the Port of New York and New Jersey, but Marylou Sudders, the Massachusetts secretary of health and human services, told The Boston Globe that she believes it was impounded by customs officials on March 18.
Sudders said she believes customs officials confiscated the shipments and placed it in the federal stockpile.
‘They take what we order,’ Sudders said, referring to the Trump administration.
Named Operation Enduring Friendship, Maryland’s mission to secure the 500,000 tests from Korea’s LabGenomics was led by first lady Yumi Hogan, a fine artist.
Born in South Korea, she became a citizen in 1994 and negotiated with authorities there so that Maryland could make the $9.4 million purchase. South Korea had a surplus of tests but a policy of not selling to states.
Gov. Hogan said that they had worked over 22 days with the Korean embassy, the state department in South Korea, eight different state agencies and scientists to complete the complicated process.
‘We made sure it landed at BWI airport instead of Dulles [in Washinton D.C.] so it’s the first time a Korean Air passenger plane has ever laded at BWI,’ he said, adding that the tests are now being guarded at a secret location by the National Guard, who are also working to distribute them.
‘We’ve about 1,300 members of the Maryland National Guard who’ve been activated and another 800 who are on standby and ready for activation in an eight-hour period,’ he said.
‘These are citizen soldiers who are really stepping up and helping other citizens in need.’
Both Hogans were present on April 18 to welcome the chartered 777 Korean Air plane when it landed.
Gov. Hogan said that they made the decision to secure the tests for themselves after conflict with the federal government, which states have called on for help in the effort to ramp up testing.
President Donald Trump took a swipe at the governor after news of the test delivery was announced earlier this month.
During a press conference on the Monday after the tests landed, Trump accused Hogan of not understanding the White House’s handling of the coronavirus situation.
‘Some of the governors, as an example, the governor of Maryland, did not really understand the list,’ Trump said while describing a call Vice President Mike Pence had with governors earlier that day.
‘He did not understand too much about what was going on, so now I think he’ll be able to do that.’
Trump asserted that Hogan could have saved a lot of money by calling Vice President Mike Pence about the tests.
‘I don’t think he needed to go to South Korea. I think he needed to get a little knowledge – would have been helpful,’ Trump said at the briefing.
Hogan didn’t entertain the comments and said that he did what the president and told governors to do.
‘The president said that the governors are on their own and they should really focus to getting their own tests. And that is exactly what we did,’ he said.
‘Message changed yesterday, I’m not sure why.’
Hogan confirmed the administration pointed to federal labs as a way to meet the state’s testing needs.
‘We’ve been pushing to get NIH to help us with testing for more than a month now, but it was a productive meeting overall,’ Hogan said.
Hogan said the April 18 shipment does not include everything needed to conduct all the tests, such as lab capability and swabs, though the state has acquired and continues to work to find the other needed components from other suppliers.