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Maryland reports most new COVID cases recorded in 24-hour period, 6,218, as officials warn of surge’s impact on hospital capacity

Maryland reported 6,218 new COVID-19 cases Tuesday, marking the most infections added in 24 hours during the coronavirus pandemic, as officials painted a bleak picture of how the virus’ surge could shape the rest of the winter.

The new data means that more than one in every 1,000 Marylanders was confirmed to have a coronavirus infection in the past day.

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But officials said they were most concerned about COVID-19 hospitalizations, which doubled since the beginning of December. Those patients, approximately 75% of whom are unvaccinated, are burdening a health care system experiencing an exodus of medical personnel due to fatigue and frustration, health experts said.

Infections are occurring in both the unvaccinated and vaccinated people, though those who are vaccinated and have received a booster shot were most protected against severe illness and death.

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Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan gave a coronavirus update Tuesday from Government House, where he is quarantining after contracting the coronavirus. The Republican governor said state projections show COVID-19 hospitalizations could reach 2,000 come January, potentially eclipsing pandemic high marks established in January this year.

Concerns about coronavirus hospitalizations are compounded by the fact that the flu season is expected to peak around the same time, said Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, and Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander for the University of Maryland Medical System, both of whom appeared virtually for Hogan’s coronavirus update.

“In the 20 years of practicing emergency medicine, within the military and as a civilian, these are some of the most challenging times I have ever seen in health care, with many hospitals at or near capacity,” said Marcozzi, who is an associate professor in the department of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine.

COVID-19 hospitalized 47 more Marylanders on Tuesday than the day before, with 1,392 patients in hospitals with the virus — the most since Feb. 7, according to the health department. The impact is already palpable, as Delbridge said many emergency departments have found themselves encouraging ambulances to go elsewhere because they are at or near capacity.

Hogan said the state established a surge operations center and directed hospitals to roll back non-urgent procedures when the state reached 1,200 COVID-19 hospitalizations and to implement pandemic plans when the state broaches 1,500 virus patients. The governor also pledged to provide $100 million in emergency funds to address hospital staffing shortages.

The number of cases reported Tuesday includes some positive test results collected during a “network security incident” that forced the health department to take servers offline and hold back updates for much of the state’s coronavirus data dashboard for more than two weeks, said Andy Owen, health department spokesman. Some 28,500 residents tested positive for COVID-19 during that period.

The state has not updated the number of COVID-related deaths since Dec. 4, when the health department said it noticed the security breach. The data dashboard still does not yet reflect which counties are recording new infections or the age and other demographic information about those infected.

Even if the case count and the 11.64% positivity rate — the highest rate since June 1, 2020, when the pandemic in Maryland was less than three months old — are inflated by a lag of test results, the metrics still are elevated, said Matthew Frieman, a longtime coronavirus researcher and professor in the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Microbiology and Immunology.

“A seven-day average in positivity over 11.5% is high, which means the cases are rising,” Frieman said. “We’re not seeing the completely vertical peaks like other states, but cases are rising. And people are going to be tested. There is an expected surge in testing before major holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

He was among those who raised concerns about Tuesday’s metrics, which recalled peak-pandemic times: The new infection record is more than 2,000 cases higher than the state’s previous high mark of 3,792 cases recorded Dec. 4, 2020, according to health department data.

At that point, the first vaccine had not yet been administered in the state.

The virus surge follows fall gatherings around Thanksgiving and comes ahead of the Christmas and New Year’s holidays. It’s also buoyed by the rapidly spreading omicron variant, which is considered even more contagious than delta. Omicron now constitutes almost 40% of the positive test results sent for genomic sequencing in Maryland, “with the numbers increasing very quickly,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s deputy secretary for public health.

Hogan implored residents to get tested when traveling for the holidays or if they feel sick, saying the state made 500,000 rapid tests available across Maryland and is working to distribute more tests. The governor also said he’s called upon the Maryland National Guard to help expand testing availability.

Health department data shows almost 70% of Marylanders have completed their preliminary round of immunizations — either by completing a two-dose regimen, or getting the single shot inoculation — and more than 1.4 million residents have gotten a booster shot.

“The latest surge is cause for concern and so many of us are undoubtedly feeling deja vu,” said Hogan, his voice hoarse. “I want to urge Marylanders not to panic. This is not March of 2020. We have the tools and resources in place to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe. We must remain vigilant.”

Hogan and Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr., a Democrat, have both tested positive for COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. Both have received their vaccines and booster shots. Hogan said he was experiencing “some cold-like symptoms,” while Olszewski said he was asymptomatic.

Marcozzi urged Marylanders to complete their vaccinations and obtain their booster shots. He also said people should heed precautions over the holidays like physical distancing and wearing masks, which also help prevent the spread of the flu. Marcozzi advised they should be worn in all indoor public settings.

He sought to clarify misunderstanding about the purpose of vaccines.

“These vaccines were designed to save lives, not to stop infection or completely block transmission,” Marcozzi said. “They are doing exactly what they should do.”

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Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

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Maryland’s December COVID-19 surge

What we know

  • New daily cases: 6,218 (a record)
  • Seven-day average testing positivity rate: 11.64%
  • Hospitalizations: 1,392 (highest since Feb. 7)

What we don’t

  • New deaths
  • Geographic data on where new cases are occurring in Maryland
  • Demographic data such as age, gender and race on who is testing positive
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