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Maryland coronavirus hospitalizations continue decline as state reaches 2,000 deaths

Another 41 deaths sent Maryland’s death toll from the coronavirus above 2,000 as of Wednesday, but state data show some signs of progress in slowing the pandemic: Hospitalizations continue to decline and the rate of nursing home deaths has slowed.

Elder care facilities reported 140 deaths reported in the past week, compared with close to 200 the week before that. Still, the facilities remain hot spots for deadly infections, with more than 1,100 coronavirus-related deaths confirmed among residents and staff, and still accounting for more than half of the state’s casualties.

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The count of patients currently hospitalized, which Gov. Larry Hogan’s office is monitoring most closely to determine the next steps in Maryland’s reopening process, declined to 1,410, state health officials reported. It was the fourth straight day and 12th time in the past two weeks the state reported such a decline.

Lt. Gov. Boyd Rutherford said the social distancing requirements imposed two months ago have prevented the state’s health care system from being overwhelmed, and that now, next steps toward “gradually and cautiously” reopening the state will depend on Marylanders who “continue to be patient.”

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"What gives us hope is seeing the consistent downward trend … with regard to hospitalizations, as well as with ICU beds,” said Rutherford, a Republican, at Wednesday’s meeting of the state Board of Public Works.

It was not clear if the figures reported Wednesday — the state reports overall statistics on cases and deaths daily, but releases data specific to nursing homes weekly — reflects the state’s effort to test all residents and staff of nursing homes, however. State health officials said they are distributing more than 20,000 tests per week to the state’s nursing home facilities, and that they expect to reach all 227 of them by the end of next week.

But they did not respond to questions about whether the results of those tests have started to come in, and whether they are yet reflected in the publicly reported data.

Testing has been on the rise, according to the posted data. On Tuesday, the state reported its largest count of positive tests in a single day, with more than 1,700, and officials attributed it to a backlog of test results needing to be reported.

“With increased testing, we knew we’d see a rise in the total number of positive cases," Rutherford said.

But the number of new infections reported Wednesday still declined significantly, to 777, well below the average over the past two weeks of just over 1,000 new infections each day.

Maryland officials also reported 5,895 negative test results Wednesday, the fifth most since the state began providing such data in late March.

That means only 12% of the 6,672 total test results reported Wednesday came back positive, the lowest rate for a single day in May. The rate has hovered around 20%, a level health experts say suggests only the sickest patients are being tested.

About one in five of the 42,323 Marylanders confirmed infected with the coronavirus is a nursing home resident or worker, consistent with data the state has reported in recent weeks.

But elder care facilities account for a slightly smaller share of the state’s coronavirus deaths than they did a week ago, at about 57% of about 2,004 casualties. The number of facility staff members killed was unchanged, at 12 people, while the number of residents killed reached at least 1,123.

More than 86% of the state’s coronavirus victims have been at least 60 years old. About a quarter of the cases in Baltimore and a third of the cases in Baltimore County stem from nursing homes.

Prince George’s and Montgomery counties remain the Maryland jurisdictions with the most total confirmed cases of the virus. Those counties feature nine of the top 10 ZIP codes by total infections, with the 21224 ZIP code that includes Baltimore’s Canton and Highlandtown neighborhoods ranking seventh.

Those who are black account for the plurality of Maryland’s infected (37%) and dead (43%), among those whose race is known. Nearly 30% of Maryland’s confirmed cases are in its Hispanic population, when that group only accounts for 10% of the state’s overall population.

Baltimore Sun reporter Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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