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Maryland’s coronavirus positivity rate has been below 5% for two weeks as state tries to ramp up vaccination effort

Maryland health officials reported 976 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, and 16 more deaths caused by the disease.

Reported cases have been mostly on the decline in the state since mid-January, when they reached an all-time high. The same is true of hospitalizations and deaths caused by the virus.

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The state’s seven-day average testing positivity rate, a metric used to help assess infection rates, has been declining, too, reaching 3.74% Thursday. The rate has been below 5% for two weeks, a benchmark recommended by the World Health Organization to assess when communities can relax pandemic-related restrictions.

The positivity rate was last under 5% on Nov. 7 and had been since late June. After early November, the rate rose until it hit 9.47% on Jan. 3. It didn’t sink back below 5% until Feb. 11.

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Meanwhile, the state is endeavoring to scale up its coronavirus vaccination effort, which has been constrained by scarce supply. The effort has drawn complaints statewide from eligible residents who have struggled to book appointments, through myriad websites offering appointments at health department sites, pharmacies, hospital and state-run mass vaccination sites.

Thursday, health officials reported administering 15,797 first doses of the vaccine, compared to more than 21,000 reported Wednesday. On average, the state has vaccinated about 14,200 new people every day over the past week, roughly the same as the week before. The state administered more second doses of the vaccine — 22,743 — compared to about 15,000 reported Wednesday.

The state opened a new mass vaccination site Thursday in Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium. The site will administer 250 to 500 new shots a day at first, and eventually will scale up to 2,000, officials say. There’s another mass vaccination site in the city, at the convention center, and at the Six Flags America theme park in Prince George’s County.

The state is planning for an additional mass vaccination site in Charles County, at the Regency Furniture Stadium in Waldorf. Sites on the Eastern Shore and in western Maryland are forthcoming, officials say.

Still, equity concerns surround the vaccination effort. As of Thursday, about 16% of those vaccinated with at least one dose of the vaccine were Black, where race data was recorded. But 31% of the state’s population is Black. Meanwhile about 4% of Marylanders vaccinated with at least one dose were Latino, a group that makes up 11% of the state population.

Maryland has consistently ranked in the lower third of states when it comes to the speed of its vaccination effort. As of Wednesday, Maryland had given out 19,187 doses per 100,000 people. The best performing state, Alaska, was above 33,000.

Maryland has vaccinated nearly 13% of its population with at least one dose, and 6.7% with both of the required doses.

More than 2 million of the state’s 6 million residents are eligible for vaccination, in phases 1A through 1C of the state eligibility plan. That includes anyone over 65 years old, health care and nursing home staff, certain essential workers and those with particular illnesses receiving care from hospitals.

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