Maryland will move to Phase 1B of the state's COVID-19 vaccination plan beginning Monday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced.

Hogan said the state is entering the most challenging phase of the pandemic, and that getting vaccinated is critical to preventing more illnesses and more deaths.

"Getting vaccinated is the single most important thing that you can do right now to save lives and to protect your friends and your family and your community," Hogan said. "By getting this effective and safe vaccine, all of us can play an important part in returning to normal, ending the damage to our economy, preventing more deaths, illnesses in our state and eliminating and eradicating this pandemic once and for all."

"(I) urge all Marylanders who are currently eligible to receive the vaccine to do so," Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said. "No one out there -- especially those in the high-risk categories or front-line and essential workers -- should think they don't need to worry about the virus. The fact is that no one knows how the virus may affect them, whether it's little symptoms or few symptoms, or an ICU stay, you won't know until it happens. I don't know about you, but I'd rather not find out myself."

MARYLAND MOVES TO PHASE 1B MONDAY: After conferring with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield, Vice President Mike Pence and President-elect Joe Biden's team, and reviewing revised CDC guidance, the governor announced the state will move to Phase 1B of the state's COVID-19 Vaccination Plan.

Starting Monday, eligible groups will be expanded statewide to include all Marylanders 75 and older, as well as anyone of any age living in assisted living or independent living facilities and developmental disabilities and behavioral health group homes.

"Vaccinations will now be available for, essentially, all of Maryland's most vulnerable population," Maryland Aging Secretary Rona Kramer said. "It's important not just for our seniors, but for all Marylanders to know these vaccines are safe and effective."

"Our primary goal is for them to get more shots into the arms of more people in our vulnerable populations as quickly as they can," Hogan said.

Also starting Monday, the state is directing all Maryland hospitals and county health departments to begin using remaining doses by opening Phase 1B clinics focused on the elderly.

EDUCATORS: Those now eligible in Phase 1B also include K-12 teachers, education staff and child care providers. For teachers and education staff, the state superintendent has submitted plans for how each county school system will vaccinate its teachers and critical staff. The plans will be implemented in the coming weeks, Hogan said.

"I want to get kids back in school as quickly as we possibly can," Hogan said. "That's why our state superintendent of schools has been working with all the county systems to make sure that they had plans to vaccinate all the teachers, all of the other educational staff, as well as the child-care providers, so we can get our kids back to school -- everybody wants that to happen."

Teachers got pushed up in priority stages because the governor said it's a priority to send children back to school.

But there's no mandate that schools reopen once teachers and staff are vaccinated. Cheryl Bost, president of the state teachers' union, the Maryland State Education Association, said vaccination is just one part of the equation.

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"With making sure the health and safety items are taking care of in the building, as the CDC and Maryland Health Department are requiring, and widespread vaccination, that it's hitting not just educators but our general public, and we're hoping that, soon, there'll be a pediatric version for students," Bost said.

Bost is hopeful that they can return to the classroom even before next fall, but that decision is up to each individual school district.

"One of the things we'll have to look at is will we still need to do some of the masking and social distancing. What will it look like in our communities once people are vaccinated?" Bost said.

PHASE 1C: The governor announced the state will move into Phase 1C starting Jan. 25, which will be open to all Maryland residents ages 65 to 74; public health and safety workers not covered in Phase 1A; and essential workers in lab services, food and agriculture production, manufacturing, the U.S. Postal Service, public transit and grocery stores.

NEW ONLINE VACCINATION SITE LOCATOR: The state is launching, an online portal where Marylanders can find a list of vaccination sites in their area along with contact information. Due to limited supply, vaccinations will be done by appointment only at this time. Read more at WBALTV