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Maryland adds 541 coronavirus cases as hospitalizations drop a record 7.8%

Maryland confirmed 541 new cases and seven new deaths from the coronavirus Wednesday, while the state’s count of current hospitalizations saw one of its sharpest day-to-day declines of the pandemic’s five months.

Wednesday’s additions brought the state to at least 97,384 infections and 3,474 victims of COVID-19. Through Tuesday’s data, Maryland ranks 17th in cases per capita and 11th in deaths per capita among the 50 states, according to John Hopkins University’s coronavirus resource center.

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With 488 patients hospitalized for the coronavirus as of Wednesday, Maryland’s hospitals have reported having fewer than 500 patients for the first time since July 22. The decline of 41 patients from Tuesday marked a 7.8% drop, Maryland’s largest single day decrease during the pandemic.

The state reported that 117 of those hospitalized — about one in four — were in intensive care. Maryland’s hospitals haven’t exceeded 150 ICU cases since July 2, but they haven’t had fewer than 100 since late March.

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The state’s reported seven-day average positivity rate, 3.61% as of Wednesday, has been below 5% for 48 straight days and beneath 4% for five of the past six days, though it increased slightly from Tuesday’s mark. The figure measures how many virus tests among those conducted return a positive result.

Dr. Jinlene Chan, the state’s acting deputy health secretary for public health, told state lawmakers Wednesday that concerning trends of infections in July appear to be improving.

”We are very encouraged by the fact that what we are seeing now is our positivity is decreasing,” Chan said.

She cautioned that Marylanders need to continue to take measures to prevent the spread of the virus: wearing a mask, staying physically distant from others, avoiding large gatherings and washing hands.

The World Health Organization recommends 14 straight days of positivity rates beneath 5% before governments ease virus-related restrictions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for entering a third reopening phase call for 14 straight days with a positivity rate beneath 10%, which Maryland has achieved in both its single-day and seven-day rates, with a median test result return time of fewer than two days. The state is not reporting its average test return time.

Maryland began its reopening process before reaching the WHO’s benchmark. Including Wednesday’s 3.59% figure, the state’s single-day rate has been below 5% for 13 straight days, Maryland’s longest streak.

Through Tuesday’s data, Hopkins, which calculates positivity rate differently than the state, has Maryland as one of 37 states with a seven-day rolling positivity rate exceeding 5%, though Maryland’s 5.25% rate is the fourth-lowest rate among that group.

Hopkins determines its rate using the number of confirmed cases in a given week divided by the number of people tested, while the state divides the number of positive tests by that week’s total testing volume, meaning the multiple results of individuals who are tested more than once are all included in the calculation.

Maryland ranked 24th among all states in tests conducted per capita as of Tuesday, according to Hopkins. Wednesday’s 18,000 test results pushed the state’s testing volume during the pandemic beyond 1.5 million, but Maryland now has reported fewer than 20,000 test results on consecutive days for the first time in nearly a month.

The state has tested nearly 1.1 million residents, with about 9% receiving a positive result at least once.

About 44% of Wednesday’s new cases were found in Marylanders in their 20s and 30s. Including five deaths for which the state reported age for the first time, 11 of 12 victims were at least 60 years old, an age group that represents 22% of Maryland’s overall caseload.

The state updates its data on nursing homes and similar facilities weekly on Wednesdays. Almost one in every six COVID-19 infections and 60% of deaths from the virus in Maryland have been tied to long-term care facilities. The number of active cases, meaning at facilities where there has been a confirmed infection in the past two weeks, dropped beneath 8,000.

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Prince George’s County, the Maryland jurisdiction with the most total cases, is the only county with an average positivity rate above 5% over the past week, with its rate of 5.54% an increase from its low of 5.30% on Tuesday. Queen Anne’s County (4.80%), Baltimore City (4.70%), Charles County (4.45%) and Baltimore County (4.10%) are the state’s only other jurisdictions exceeding 4%, according to state data.

On top of the 541 new cases, the state reported the race of 375 of those infected for whom it previously didn’t have that data. Combining those 916 cases, 47% were in Black residents, 24% were in Hispanic residents and 23% were in white residents. Maryland’s overall population is about 59% white, 31% Black and 11% Hispanic, according to U.S. Census data.

Maryland does not have race data available for about 15% of its cases. Only 12 of the virus’ victims in the state have not been identified by their race.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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