More than 10,000 Marylanders have been killed by COVID-19 as of Thursday, a once-unthinkable death toll reflecting the severity of a pandemic that has killed millions more worldwide.
Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered state flags to be lowered to half-staff in remembrance of those 10,011 who have died statewide from the coronavirus since March 2020.
“Each of these Marylanders was the most important person in the world to someone, and our prayers are with the family members and the loved ones who are grieving,” the governor said in a statement.
“We have overcome so much over the last 19 months. Our recovery continues, and more people are getting vaccinated every day. But even while the worst may be behind us, the virus remains a significant threat to the vulnerable.”
The state reached the latest grim milestone of the protracted pandemic amid a rise of both cases and deaths fueled by the delta variant, which is more contagious and more deadly, especially among those who remain unvaccinated, according to health experts.
More than 63% of state residents are fully inoculated with two doses on the mRNA vaccines or a single-dose vaccine, according to the Maryland Department of Health’s online COVID-19 dashboard.
Dr. Amit Chandra, chief of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center Midtown Campus, said the death toll should serve as a reminder for Marylanders to take COVID-19 seriously and consider its implications on the health care system.
Throughout the pandemic, medical workers have experienced first hand the deadly effects of the coronavirus while at times enduring the crush of new patients with fewer employees. Losing a patient weighs on healthcare workers, Chandra said.
“Those are your hardest days. It doesn’t get easier,” Chandra said. “You learn how to continue to function, continue to compartmentalize that loss and focus on the next patient.”
That toll has cost hospitals staff.
“The truth is over the year and a half we, like other places, have lost really good folks just to, you know, not being able to deal with that,” Chandra said. “It’s really changed the nature of what it means to be a health care worker.”
Maryland Senate President Bill Ferguson, a Democrat, called Thursday “a solemn day for the State.”
“I, along with the entire Senate of Maryland send our most heartfelt sympathies to every friend and family member who has had to endure without their loved one by their side, due to this pandemic,” Ferguson said in a statement.
“We have learned so much in the last year and a half, and we shall not let their memories be in vain,” he said.
Allegany County in Western Maryland has been hit the hardest, with 33 deaths per 10,000 residents, the most of any area in the state. Kent County (26 per 10,000), Garrett County (24), Washington County (23), Baltimore City (22), Dorchester (21) and Worcester (21) have the next highest COVID death rates.
The statewide death rate has been ticking generally upward, along with cases and hospitalizations, since July. The state reported 21 more fatalities Thursday, while the number of COVID patients being treated in Maryland hospitals dropped by 15 to 804.
The 1,330 new cases reported Thursday brought Maryland’s total case count to 515,259 since state officials began tracking the pandemic in March 2020. The positivity rate, which dipped below 1% this summer, stood at 4.46% as of Thursday.
Including probable COVID-19 deaths — the victims who showed symptoms but did not have their cases confirmed with a test — Maryland has had 169 deaths per 100,000 people, according to the COVID Act Now online tracker.
Maryland is far from unique in the ongoing surges in COVID-19 metrics in the U.S., but it had the second-lowest case rate per 100,000 people among U.S. states as of Thursday, according to the New York Times coronavirus tracker.
Cases, hospitalizations and deaths “have generally increased throughout most of the country since the beginning of summer, fueled by the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant,” the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said.
“Low vaccination coverage in many communities is driving these increases,” the CDC said on its website.
While so-called “breakthrough” cases are increasing, too, as the virus mutates and lessens the effectiveness of vaccination, more than 90% of the COVID-19 cases in Maryland since vaccines became available in January have been among unvaccinated people, according to the state. In July, however, fully vaccinated patients made up a quarter of the state’s caseload.
Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander and chief clinical officer at the University of Maryland Medical System, asked all hospital system employees to take a moment Thursday “to remember and honor” those the state has lost to the virus.
Marcozzi thanked direct bedside care providers, environmental services and food service workers, and other hospital staffers for their perseverance through the pandemic. He praised them “for leading our state in this response, for standing strong against the spread of disease by getting the COVID-19 vaccine, for providing compassionate care and for following all infection prevention protocols to keep us all safe.”
“The COVID-19 pandemic has changed so much about our daily lives during the past 18 months,” Marcozzi said in a statement. “One thing that remains constant is the profound impact that the loss of life has on each of us, both in our professional and personal lives.
Baltimore Sun reporter Alex Mann contributed to this article.