Maryland health officials on Saturday reported more than 7.5 million coronavirus vaccines have been administered statewide, a milestone that comes as the state continues to see elevated COVID-19 infections.
The state recorded 1,368 new coronavirus cases, the fourth consecutive day with at least 1,000 infections, according to health department data.
Since Thursday, Maryland has averaged more than 1,000 cases daily over the past two weeks. Around the same time in July, when the rate was climbing, the state averaged roughly 220 infections daily over the last 14 days. The average was about 60 in late June.
The comparatively high level of infections serves as evidence of the virus’s summer surge, driven by the highly contagious delta variant.
“The delta variant, which is dominant today, is just much more efficient at finding new hosts,” said Neil Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
While approximately six in 10 Maryland residents are vaccinated and thus protected from the worst symptoms of the virus, hospitalization and death, Sehgal said there’s a risk that some could get a breakthrough infection.
“Everybody at this point is either likely to get vaccinated or to be exposed to SARS-CoV-2 and contract COVID-19, and some people will be both,” Sehgal said.
Coronavirus hospitalizations decreased Saturday, with 690 people still hospitalized statewide — the third consecutive day of slight decline, according to Maryland Department of Health data. Yet the number of people hospitalized is still high compared to this time last month, when there were about 208 COVID-19 patients, and the same date in June, when the state reported 115 coronavirus patients.
All but five jurisdictions in Maryland had “high” levels of community coronavirus transmission, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Baltimore City and Carroll, Howard, Montgomery and Talbot counties had substantial spread, the CDC said.
“Clearly, we’re headed in the wrong direction,” said Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist who is a senior scholar for the Bloomberg School of Public Health’s Center for Health Security.
Maryland recorded 12 new coronavirus fatalities Saturday, the data shows. As of Friday, the state reported an average of seven casualties daily over the last two weeks. On the same day last month, there was a two-week average of three deaths a day, while there were an average of four fatalities daily over the two weeks leading up to the same date in June.
With more Marylanders seeking coronavirus tests, evidenced by the 38,532 new tests reported by the state Saturday, the state’s average testing positivity rate remains elevated compared to the last two months.
The testing rate was 4.98% Friday, more than double what it was a month ago.
Nuzzo emphasized that, along with vaccination, testing is a key to mitigating the virus spread. She said she’s skeptical of whether the state is conducting enough surveillance through testing, whether there’s enough access to tests in Maryland and how quickly the results are being returned.
But, while the infection trends in Maryland are concerning to her and other experts, Nuzzo said Maryland fares better than other states because of its comparatively high vaccination coverage.
As part of its summer vaccination campaign, Maryland officials say they’re offering the coronavirus vaccine through Labor Day on the weekends at Sandy Point State Park and seven days a week at the Maryland State Fair in Timonium. Vaccines are also available on weekends at the Maryland Renaissance Festival in Annapolis, Hogan’s office said.
The state reported 13,645 new vaccinations Saturday, bringing to 11,835 the statewide average of daily immunizations over the last week, health department data shows.
About 61.3% of eligible Maryland residents have been fully inoculated against the virus, either by completing the two-dose courses made Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna or getting Johnson and Johnson’s single-shot vaccine.
Sehgal is worried about the roughly four in 10 Marylanders who haven’t been vaccinated, some of whom, like children younger than 10, are not eligible for vaccination.
“I think at this point those four in 10 residents are at grave danger,” Sehgal said. “Certainly, this is the highest risk for that group on the individual level that we’ve seen thus far in the pandemic just because of the efficiency of the virus.”