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Two weeks after Labor Day, Maryland again sees lowest testing positivity since March

Two weeks after Labor Day weekend, Maryland appears to have avoided a spike in coronavirus cases, and has seen its positivity rate continue to set new low marks.

Maryland reported 412 new cases of the coronavirus Monday and four more deaths due to COVID-19, the disease the virus causes. The state now has reported single-digit deaths in 16 out of the past 17 days. On Sunday, the state reported its lowest positivity rate and number of active hospitalizations since March, trends that remained similar Monday.

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Ahead of the Labor Day weekend, traditionally a time of mingling and gatherings that could spread the virus, officials including Gov. Larry Hogan urged Marylanders to continue to stay away from large groups, wear face coverings and wash their hands. The spread of the virus isn’t immediately reflected in case load totals, as it can take several days for symptoms to surface and several days for test results to come back positive, meaning it can take weeks to detect outbreaks.

Monday’s data puts Maryland at a total of 120,568 confirmed infections and 3,739 deaths since the first confirmed cases were recorded in the state in March.

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The state’s seven-day positivity rate — which records the percentage of positive tests throughout a weeklong period — continued to drop to new lows at 2.75%, down again from Sunday’s low since March of 2.85%. Maryland has reported a rate below 4% every day since Aug. 8 and below 5% since June 25.

A positivity rate below 5% is relevant because the World Health Organization recommends governments see 14 consecutive days of positive rates under that mark before easing COVID-19-related restrictions.

The Johns Hopkins University coronavirus resource center — which records positivity rates differently than the state — reported Maryland’s positivity rate to be 5.49% as of Sunday, down from 5.66% on Saturday. Maryland is tied for 24th among states in that mark, and shares the lowest rate of states above the 5% threshold, with Virginia’s rate also at 5.49%.

The Hopkins positivity rate has been consistently higher than the state’s because it calculates the rate using the number of individuals tested, whereas the state uses the overall number of tests, meaning people tested multiple times are recorded only once in Hopkins' rate.

Hospitalizations remain low following Sunday’s 281, a low since March, but broke a three day streak of falling, as the state reported 290 Monday. Of patients hospitalized, 71 needed intensive care, three more than Sunday’s 68, which was the fewest since March.

Some areas of the state have been hit harder than others in the past two weeks, particularly on the Eastern Shore.

Worcester County, home to tourist destination Ocean City, has had among the highest rates of confirmed cases in the past 14 days at 2.2 cases per 1,000 residents, according to The Baltimore Sun’s coronavirus data. The trend isn’t new: on the Friday before Labor Day, the county had a testing positivity rate more than twice the state’s average.

The Worcester County health department has said that beach crowds create a “massive spike in population,” which makes Ocean City the state’s second most populous municipality during the summer, it said.

The only other counties with a higher rate than Worcester were neighboring Wicomico County and nearby Dorchester County, at 2.33 and 2.35 per 1,000 residents, respectively. Caroline County, Dorchester’s neighbor, has the state’s fourth-highest rate in the past two weeks at 1.98.

As of the most recent data available, Dorchester, Wicomico and Worcester counties all had case rates per 100,000 residents significantly higher than the state’s average, with Caroline County coming in just above the state’s average. Caroline County has seen a steep drop in case rate in recent days, as it had a case rate double the state’s average on Wednesday and nearly triple it on Sept. 5.

Among the four deaths reported Monday, three were people in their 60s and one was in their 70s. Although the virus has killed older people disproportionately, Monday’s new cases showed the virus spreading significantly among younger people.

The state reported 159 new cases among those in their 20s and 30s Monday, representing about 39% of the newly reported cases. The state also reported 70 new cases among those between the ages of 10 and 19 as some schools have opened around the state.

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