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Maryland reports 503 new coronavirus cases; Garrett County reports first coronavirus death

Maryland reported 503 new cases of the coronavirus Thursday, and seven new deaths, bringing statewide totals of infections to 114,078 and fatalities to 3,679.

Thursday’s caseload is an uptick following two days of reported new cases numbering in the 300s. But on three occasions this week and last, the state reported more than 700 new cases in a single day.

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The state also reported 18,551 new COVID-19 tests Thursday, far more coronavirus tests than the day before. On Wednesday, the state reported fewer than 10,000.

All seven of the new coronavirus victims reported Thursday were over the age of 60.

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Just as on Wednesday, four Maryland counties reported testing positivity rates above 5% Thursday, all of them on the Eastern Shore — Caroline, Cecil, Wicomico and Worcester counties. Queen Anne’s County, also on the Eastern Shore, was close behind, with a positivity rate of 4.98%.

Garrett County in Western Maryland reported its first death from COVID-19 Thursday. It had been the last county in the state without a COVID-19 death.

On Thursday, 358 people were hospitalized due to the virus, 12 fewer than Wednesday. Ninety-two of those hospitalized are in intensive care units, the lowest number since late March.

The state has reported fewer than 120 ICU patients each day since Aug. 11, falling below 100 on five of those days.

Maryland reported a seven-day average COVID-19 testing positivity rate of 3.71% Thursday, well below the World Health Organization reopening benchmark of 5% positivity.

Still, the state’ positivity rate, as calculated by Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus resource center, lingers above 6%.

Hopkins calculates the rate differently, and doesn’t include repeat COVID-19 tests taken by the same individual. The state tallies the results of repeat tests, as long as they are not performed the same day at the same location.

Dr. Jennifer Nuzzo, lead epidemiologist for Hopkins' coronavirus resource center’s Testing Insights Initiative, said Thursday that the increase in Hopkins' figure as the state’s remains beneath 4% is possibly tied to the restart of some in-person schooling and the repeat testing associated with it.

Nuzzo cautioned that those being tested because of their environment, such as students returning to school, could “drown out” those being tested because they have symptoms or believe they have been exposed to the virus.

“While repeat testing of certain populations is very important in terms of a strategy for controlling the spread of this virus, particularly in congregate settings like schools and other things, we also want to recognize that the testing that’s occurring in those places is different than the testing that occurs when somebody thinks, ‘I’m not feeling well. Do I have COVID-19?’ ”

Although the disparity between the state’s figure and Hopkins' is as wide as it has been in three months, Nuzzo said the large gap between the two figures isn’t a cause for concern unless the increases in one but not the other continue for more than only a handful of days. Hopkins' figure for Maryland recently spent three straight weeks beneath WHO’s 5% benchmark.

"I always stress the need to look at at least seven days to know what’s happening now and at least two weeks, if not more, to figure what the trend is, because there is a fair amount of day-to-day and even week-to-week variation that may not be significant from a public health standpoint.”

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Gov. Larry Hogan defended the state’s method of calculating the positivity rate at a press conference Thursday, saying the state has used consistent metrics throughout the pandemic.

The state also has been transparent about its methodology, the Republican governor said.

“We’re the most transparent state in the country. We provide more information than other states do,” he said.

Johns Hopkins, he added, is “using some complicated algorithm."

”I’m not saying that the Hopkins numbers are wrong, but they are significantly different. But we’re comparing ourselves to the other 49 states…," Hogan said. “We’re at 3.7% positivity, as of today. That’s better than 35 states in the country.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Nathan Ruiz and Pamela Wood contributed to this article.

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