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Maryland posts record 14,000 COVID cases, along with 55 more fatalities

Maryland reported 14,316 new coronavirus cases Thursday, logging record of infections for a 24-hour period for the second consecutive day and the fifth time this month amid a virus surge that’s led to similar records this week from the hard-hit Mid-Atlantic to Florida and Illinois.

Staggering case counts are compounded by record COVID-19 hospitalizations, as Thursday’s census of coronavirus patients topped Wednesday’s pandemic high mark, a mounting December death toll and a higher percentage of virus tests combing back positive, according to Maryland Department of Health data.

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As residents prepare to ring in the New Year with a long weekend, the state faces a virus that is surging at an unprecedented rate thanks to the emergence of the highly contagious omicron variant. As of Thursday, roughly one in 98 Marylanders tested positive for the coronavirus in the last week.

As at Thanksgiving and Christmas, the health department will not update its COVID-19 data dashboard Friday or Saturday because of the New Year’s holiday. Mike Ricci, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan, said the state’s coronavirus data reporting policy aligns with the practice of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which won’t report COVID-19 data again until Monday.

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Before Christmas, Marylanders rushed to get tested ahead of gatherings and travel; the data reported after the Dec. 24 and 25 break shattered previous infection records.

Maryland on Thursday eclipsed 700,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic, according to the health department. The death toll stands at 11,522.

The health department reported 55 more people dead from the coronavirus Thursday, the most fatalities reported for a 24-hour period since Jan. 26, when Maryland was fighting the last major virus surge. In December alone, 549 Marylanders have died from the coronavirus, the data shows.

With Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center joining the fray Wednesday night, at least six hospitals in Maryland have resorted to crisis standards of care in the last week.

There were 2,122 coronavirus patients hospitalized across the state Thursday, 72 more than the day before, the highest hospitalization mark recorded during the pandemic, according to the health department. Officials have said the influx of coronavirus patients, about three-quarters of who are unvaccinated, coincides with a busy flu season and a shortage of health care personnel.

Nationwide, what’s been described as tidal wave of omicron infections is sending children to the hospital at near record marks. In Maryland, 38 of the more than 2,100 patients hospitalized Thursday are in pediatric care, including eight children who required intensive care, according to the health department.

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman instituted an indoor mask mandate effective noon Friday, citing spiking cases and following similar moves in Baltimore City, as well as Baltimore, Howard, Montgomery and Prince George’s counties.

The state’s average testing positivity rate reached 20.63% — up 1.32 percentage points compared to the day before — for the first time since May 11, 2020, health department data show. The pandemic was barely two months old then and testing was scarce.

Now, after dismantling much of its testing infrastructure to stand up vaccination sites at the beginning of this year, the state is again scrambling to meet a massive demand for testing.

The health department reported more than 63,000 new test results Thursday, bringing to approximately 400,000 the number of results reported in Maryland over the last seven days. That’s enough for about one in every 15 residents to have been tested.

A new testing site opened Thursday afternoon near Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore, and others planned to open Friday in Annapolis and Bel Air.

State and public health officials continue to urge those who have not been vaccinated or received their booster shots to do so, citing the alarming coronavirus metrics as a reason to act urgently. Completing the first course of vaccines and receiving a booster provides the best protection from serious illness, hospitalization and death.

Roughly 8,400 residents completed their first course of vaccinations over the last 24 hours, either by receiving a second dose of the vaccines made by Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna or getting the single-shot inoculation made by Johnson & Johnson, according to the health department. The state reported 23,000 new booster shots Thursday.

Still, the state has struggled to convince those who remain unvaccinated to get inoculated. Around 70% of the population is fully vaccinated, the data shows.

Maryland is nearing 1.6 million booster doses administered, enough to provide the best protection against negative or deadly outcomes to approximately 26% of residents. Public health experts fear that’s not enough vaccine coverage to stave off the rapidly spreading omicron variant.

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