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Maryland reports 664 new coronavirus cases; hospitalizations tick up

Maryland reported 664 new coronavirus cases and five more deaths Thursday as hospitalizations due to the virus continued to tick up.

On the 10th straight day of more than 500 new confirmed cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, the state reached 80,836 total cases. The confirmed death toll from the disease or its complications has reached 3,281 since the state began tracking it in March.

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The number of people currently hospitalized due to COVID-19 complications rose by 23 patients to a total of 528 as of Thursday, according to the state. Of those patients, 395 were in acute care, 27 more than Wednesday, and 133 are in intensive care, four fewer than Wednesday.

While the increase in hospitalizations was relatively small, Thursday marked the sixth straight day of more people hospitalized with the coronavirus in Maryland than the day before. Hospitalizations remain down more than two-thirds, though, from the state’s peak of 1,711 on April 30.

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The statewide positivity rate, a key metric in determining the spread of the virus, increased to 4.56% Thursday from 4.49% Wednesday, according to the state health department.

Johns Hopkins University calculates that rate differently. It puts Maryland’s positivity rate at 5.02% as of Thursday, placing it at the bottom of a list of 34 states and territories with higher than recommended rates. The World Health Organization recommends that governments have a seven-day average rate below 5% for 14 days before they begin reopening. Maryland started lifting restrictions before reaching this benchmark.

Maryland calculates its positivity rate by dividing the number of positive tests by the total testing volume over a seven-day period. Hopkins uses the number of people tested, or the combination of new cases and people who tested negative.

Seven Maryland jurisdictions have seven-day average testing positivity rates above the recommended 5% rate as of Thursday. They are Baltimore City (6.09%), Baltimore County (6.01%), Prince George’s County (5.97%), Charles County (5.89%), Talbot County (5.58%), Dorchester County (7.22%), and Worcester County (6.30%), according to state data.

Worcester County, where large crowds have flocked to Ocean City looking to escape the work-from-home monotony, has seen cases rise faster this week than almost any other jurisdiction in the state, although infection rates there remain far below the most heavily infected counties.

Prince George’s County, Maryland’s second-most-populous county, continues to lead the state in total cases, with 21,038, as of Thursday. Montgomery and Baltimore counties had the second- and third-most cases, with 16,654 and 10,345, respectively.

Baltimore City — with the fourth-most cases in the state, 9,842, as of Thursday — was singled out by Dr. Deborah Birx, head of President Donald Trump’s Coronavirus Task Force, on Wednesday as one of 11 cities requiring “aggressive” action to mitigate the spread of the virus.

In response to a recent spike in cases, Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young on Wednesday ordered city restaurants to suspend indoor dining by the end of the week and announced expanded requirements for face coverings.

But Republican Gov. Larry Hogan resisted calls from Young and several other local leaders to tighten restrictions statewide. He argued that local leaders should more strictly enforce social distancing guidelines.

“We do not intend to suddenly close all of our small businesses,” Hogan said in a news conference Wednesday evening. “We do not want to crush our economy.”

The state, which ordered schools closed in the spring due to the coronavirus, also is allowing local school leaders to decide whether to conduct classes virtually or in-person in the fall.

The governor nevertheless acknowledged “concerning trends” of high positivity rates among people under 35 as well as the recent uptick in hospitalizations.

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People in their 20s, 30s and 40s have become the age groups with the highest numbers of confirmed cases for which the patient’s age was known. People ages 20-29 accounted for 16% of confirmed cases, people ages 30-39 accounted for nearly 19%, and people ages 40-49 accounted for 17%, according to state data.

The elderly and those with pre-existing conditions or compromised immune systems are considered most vulnerable for severe cases of COVID-19, and nearly 87% of those who have died from the disease or complications from it were older than 60, according to the state.

Black and Latino people continue to be disproportionately affected by the coronavirus in Maryland. While the two groups constitute less than half the state’s population, they accounted for more than two-thirds of the total COVID-19 cases for which the race of the patient was known, as of Thursday.

White residents, who represent more than 58% of the state’s population, represented just over a quarter of all confirmed cases for which race was known. But 1,388 white people have died from the disease, and another 66 are presumed to have died from it, the most of any racial group in the state.

The coronavirus and related closures have continued to take an economic toll in Maryland and across the country. The resurgence of the pandemic in many areas across the country caused the number of U.S. workers filing for unemployment to rise nationally last week for the first time since March.

In Maryland, 33,378 people filed for benefits last week — 4,000 fewer claims than the week before, according to the state.

While that number is dropping, it’s still far higher than before Hogan ordered people to stay home and all nonessential workplaces closed to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Only 2,090 jobless claims were filed the week ending March 7, before most Maryland businesses closed in response to the pandemic.

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