Across much of the United States, coronavirus cases are climbing once again, with vaccinations stalling and the more contagious delta variant on the rise. In Maryland, the same is true, but on a much smaller scale.
Both nationwide and in Maryland the average number of new daily cases has doubled over the past two weeks. But, the state still has one of the six lowest case rates in the country — just above 2 per 100,000 — and one of the highest vaccination rates, according to The New York Times coronavirus tracker.
Here’s the state of the pandemic in Maryland:
The rise of delta
Over the past week, the number of new cases reported each day has increased by 60 to 139, and the state’s testing positivity rate has ticked up from 1.03% to 1.48%.
It’s an indication that the delta variant could have intense, localized impacts on Maryland, just as in places like Arkansas and Florida, where cases have surged.
Maryland is testing 45% of positive coronavirus samples from residents for variants such as delta, said Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, in a tweet Friday.
From early to late June, delta’s share of tested samples grew substantially to more than a third, state data shows.
“We do have better numbers than some of the states that have been the hardest hit thus far,” said Dr. Leana Wen, emergency physician and professor of public health at George Washington University.
“However, the upticks that we’re seeing in other places, should be fair warning that we here in Maryland have not reached the vaccination numbers that we need to in order to prevent the delta variant from having a profound impact here,” said Wen, also a former Baltimore City health commissioner.
Vaccinated people are unlikely to face serious symptoms from the virus, or its delta variant, but still could contract it and pass it along to vulnerable unvaccinated people. And as the virus finds new hosts, it will continue to mutate, potentially creating future variants that are more contagious, more dangerous or less susceptible to the vaccine.
It’s also possible that cases are increasing more dramatically than data shows, Wen said, especially given that vaccinated people, a large chunk of the population, are unlikely to experience severe symptoms from the virus and may not be getting tests.
“There is a pervasive narrative that the pandemic is behind us,” Wen said. “That’s simply not true.”
Cecil County and other hot spots
Cecil County, the northernmost county on Maryland’s Eastern Shore, has the state’s highest positivity rate, and may be an emerging hot spot for the virus in Maryland. On Monday, the county’s rate was 4.64% — more than triple the state average.
The county also has the state’s fourth-lowest vaccination rate, with 41.4% of its population fully vaccinated.
But Maryland’s three least-vaccinated jurisdictions — Somerset, Garrett and Allegany counties — still had positivity rates between 1% and 3% Monday.
The counties in Maryland with the highest case rates per 100,000 people are Cecil, Prince George’s and Charles County, all jurisdictions that have fully vaccinated less than 50% of their populations.
Half of all Maryland counties have reached this benchmark, and two of the wealthiest counties in Maryland — Howard and Montgomery — have even surpassed 60%.
Even heavily vaccinated states like Maryland could be impacted by surges of newer variants of the disease, Wen said. As such, unvaccinated people — and vaccinated people who come into contact with unvaccinated individuals — should continue wearing face masks in public, even with mandates lifted, she said.
“We are not an island,” she said.
The vaccination effort
The state’s vaccination campaign, which boomed in the spring, has slowed dramatically. Mass vaccination sites around the state, including at M&T Bank Stadium and Six Flags America, have been shuttered, and health officials say they’re focusing on more targeted approaches by hosting vaccination clinics in communities with low rates.
Many days in April, between first doses, second doses and single doses, the state was administering 60,000 to 80,000 shots per day. But throughout July, the state has never administered more than 20,000 shots in a day.
On Monday, 3,079 new Marylanders were vaccinated with their first doses of the vaccine, and another 2,755 got their second doses.