“Each day is truly now bringing us one step closer to the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Hogan.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday the state would double the number of state-run mass COVID-19 vaccination clinics by mid-April, while offering a new warning about the spread of coronavirus variants.
As he unveiled plans to open mass immunization sites in six of the state’s most populous counties, the Republican governor rebranded the inoculation effort “as a race between the vaccines and the variants.”
One of Hogan’s top coronavirus advisers, Dr. David Marcozzi, urged residents to remain vigilant as the B.1.1.7 variant, first discovered in the United Kingdom, spreads faster throughout the community. He said residents should be watchful for gastrointestinal symptoms that have been tied to the more contagious mutation of the virus.
“Unfortunately, it appears that B.1.1.7, that variant, is spreading even more easily between us and making us sicker, which is concerning,” said Marcozzi, the COVID-19 incident commander for the University of Maryland Medical System. “Nausea, vomiting and diarrhea are particularly notable complaints if someone is infected with B.1.1.7 variant, especially children and younger adults.”
As of Tuesday, Maryland laboratories had confirmed 291 COVID-19 infections had been caused by the U.K. variant. It initially was identified in Maryland in January and it’s difficult for health officials to know the extent of the spread, as only 10% of cases are analyzed for the variants.
“We aren’t done fighting this virus yet,” said Marcozzi, pointing to countries that have renewed lockdowns recently amid virus surges. “This is very evident with what we are seeing with our European partners.”
Hogan noted Maryland’s morbid milestone of eclipsing 8,000 coronavirus deaths Tuesday, and said the state passed 400,000 infections a day earlier and has seen almost 37,000 people hospitalized with the disease. Weeks after lifting many restrictions, he also acknowledged some key metrics had seen a plateau, likely attributable to the spread of mutations.
Hogan cited another variant, one traced to New York, as the “biggest concern” for Maryland health officials. He cited increases in COVID-19 infections in New York, New Jersey and “coming down the Northeast.”
Dubbed B.1.526, the variant already may be widespread in the Northeast. It’s potentially more contagious and more resistant to vaccines than the original coronavirus, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Scientists are studying the strain, which they first detected in samples taken in New York between November 2020 and February.
“We have to get more people vaccinated before these variants take hold,” Hogan said.
Soon, people in Maryland will be able to get vaccinations at mass clinics in the counties of Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Frederick, Harford, Howard and Montgomery, an announcement from Hogan that followed campaigns by officials in some jurisdictions for that immunization infrastructure.
Hogan said the first new clinics will open in Baltimore County, where a county clinic at the state fairgrounds in Timonium will become a state site, and at Montgomery College in Germantown. Both should be operational by the week of April 5.
Clinics in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties are expected to follow in mid-April, with sites in Harford and Howard counties up and running by the end of the next month. State and local officials are nailing down locations in those jurisdictions, Hogan said.
Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis will be one of the sites, according to the U.S. Naval Academy and Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman, a Democrat. Harford County Executive Barry Glassman, a Republican, said that jurisdiction’s site likely will be a drive-thru operation at Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen, which state and federal emergency management officials visited over the weekend.
In a statement released by his office, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. praised his health team for how it has performed at the county’s clinic, which he said was “consistently recognized as the best-run operation in the state.”
“The governor’s office recognized this and approached us about a partnership at Baltimore County’s site,” said Olszewski, a Democrat. “As part of this new collaboration, the state has committed to provide a much-needed increase in vaccine supply to our health department, ensuring we can further expand access for residents across Baltimore County and beyond.”
The new and expanded sites will give Marylanders more options to find and receive a vaccine. Maryland’s campaign has called upon local health departments, hospitals, pharmacies, community health centers and, most recently, primary care practices to put shots into the arms of state residents, all of whom will be eligible for immunization by April 27.
As of Tuesday, state data showed more than 2.25 million doses had been administered across Maryland. About 801,000 people have been fully vaccinated either by completing the two-dose regimens of vaccines made by Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna or by receiving the single-shot immunization Johnson & Johnson produces. Statewide, an average of 43,882 vaccines were administered daily over the past week.
There are currently six mass vaccination sites spread out across five geographic regions: two in Baltimore and one each in the Washington suburbs, Southern Maryland, Western Maryland, and the Eastern Shore.
The state stood up its first mass vaccination sites Feb. 5 at the Six Flags America in Prince George’s County and the Baltimore Convention Center. The next clinic opened Feb. 25, at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.
The convention center clinic now focuses on immunizing at-risk, hard-to-reach people in the city, while the stadium site is open to the whole state. A share of appointments at the Bowie amusement park are reserved for residents Prince George’s County. Maryland officials also reserve appointments for Southern Maryland residents at the mass clinic serving that area: Regency Furniture Stadium in Charles County.
With the first doses, starting Dec. 14, the state’s immunization effort focused on health care workers, emergency responders and nursing homes. The effort was expanded in late January to include residents aged 65 and older, educators and some essential workers, among other groups.
The federal agency says people who have cancer, chronic kidney disease, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, Down syndrome, certain heart conditions, sickle cell disease and Type 2 diabetes, as well as those who are immunocompromised from solid organ transplant, are obese, pregnant or smoke, are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
Hogan said more than 150,000 people have preregistered for vaccine appointments at the existing mass vaccination sites. Now, those 60 and older, as well any resident with qualifying existing health conditions and disabilities can sign up on the state waiting list by applying at covidvax.maryland.gov or calling 855-MD-GOVAX (855-634-6829).