More Marylanders were in the hospital Wednesday with COVID-19 than at any other time during the pandemic.
State health officials reported Wednesday that 1,862 people were currently hospitalized with the coronavirus, the most since they began tracking the pandemic in March. Hospital and health department officials attribute the bump in part to a change in the way hospitals report their number of COVID patients.
The record total is an increase of 91 patients from Tuesday, according to Maryland Department of Health data. Of those hospitalized for the disease, 444 patients required intensive care — an increase of 34 from Tuesday.
Some 27,711 people have been hospitalized for the coronavirus in Maryland over the duration of the pandemic.
Charlie Gischlar, a health department spokesman, said in a statement the increase in hospitalizations may be traced back to Johns Hopkins Hospital.
“According to our analysts, today’s increase can be attributed in part to a recent correction in the way COVID-19 patients are being reported that no longer require isolation by Johns Hopkins,” Gischlar said.
A spokesperson for Johns Hopkins Medicine said in a statement that its hospitals report the number of coronavirus patients in accordance to the guidance of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The spokesperson said the federal guidance used to require them to exclude patients who were once hospitalized with COVID-19 but who no longer were considered infectious nor required isolation.
“DHHS recently removed the isolation precautions criteria as a data reporting requirement. As a result, and working with the state, Johns Hopkins Medicine changed its reporting on January 6, 2021 to include all hospitalized patients who were diagnosed with COVID-19 at any given time during their stay,” the spokesperson, Liz Vandendriessche, wrote in an email.
Despite the apparent bump in hospitalizations, other officials and experts did not raise the alarm. They said hospitals still had room to treat people.
Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association, said in a statement that the increase in hospitalizations reported in the health department data “does not actually represent a change in hospital census overall,” citing the change in federal guidance on reporting the number of virus patients.
“Maryland hospitals continue to have capacity to care for both COVID and non-COVID patients,” Atlas said.
Mike Ricci, spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said in a statement that Maryland hospitals are equipped to handle potential surges of patients.
“Right now, with our surge plans fully activated, we remain well within our capacities,” Ricci said. “Better treatments and more experience have helped to improve our ability to fight the virus, lower the rate of deaths, and keep our hospitalization rates more stable.”
Dr. Eric S. Toner, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, said while new hospitalizations have been increasing, the number of patients currently hospitalized has been “staying relatively stable,” albeit at an elevated level. He said that’s an indication that hospitals are efficiently treating and discharging people.
“Hospitals in Maryland are not overwhelmed and not as seriously affected as they are in other places because we don’t have as many cases in Maryland as they have in some other places — Los Angeles being the big example,” Toner said.
He was referring to an escalating crisis in California that has resulted in hospitals running out of intensive care beds because of a surge in coronavirus cases. And while Maryland is not in such dire straights, Baltimore’s former health commissioner Dr. Leana Wen, said it’s no time for Marylanders to act complacent.
“There are parts of the country that are seeing much worse surges than other parts, but as a whole in the U.S. there are record rates of infections, hospitalizations and deaths, and we are not even seeing yet the effects of Christmas and New Years,” Wen said.
The effects of the holidays are certain to make things worse because of the many Americans who travel, she said.
“We know that when people travel the virus travels,” Wen said.
Coronavirus cases did continue to mount Wednesday in Maryland. The state reported 3,146 new cases — the second most in the new year and since Dec. 12 — and 47 more COVID-19 related deaths.
Maryland has now lost 5,960 people to the virus and a total of 289,758 residents have contracted the disease.
Meanwhile, the state’s seven-day average testing positivity rate bounced up to 9.44% Tuesday after dropping slightly to 9.19% Monday. The rate increased for seven consecutive days before Monday’s dip.
Fifteen of 24 Maryland jurisdictions reported positivity rates higher than the state average. The highest rates Tuesday were in Washington County, with about 17%, Queen Anne’s County and Worcester counties with about 14% each and Wicomico County with about 13%.
Washington County also paced the state with its seven-day case rate per 100,000 residents, at 99.49. The state average was about 44.
Toner said the data soon may show hospitals in Western Maryland and the southern part of the Eastern Shore are becoming overwhelmed, as both areas have experienced surges.
Meanwhile, Baltimore City and Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties all have average case rates per 100,000 residents below the state average. Anne Arundel County was just above. Those counties make up what the health department calls the Baltimore Metropolitan Area, which has administered more doses of the vaccine than any other region.
Statewide, 86,733 people have received one shot of the vaccine — approximately 1.4% of Maryland’s population.