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Maryland officials add more than 5,000 COVID cases to state tally after Christmas weekend

Maryland health officials added 5,376 cases of the coronavirus to the state’s tally Monday, immediately following a dayslong cutback in testing for the Christmas holiday.

The latest numbers also show a jump in the state’s testing positivity rate, to more than 16%, and in COVID-19 hospitalizations, to 1,714, an increase of 130 patients from the day before. More people are hospitalized with COVID-19 than at any point this year since January, before vaccinations became widespread.

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The Maryland Department of Health, still reeling from a cyberattack earlier this month, has not updated several key surveillance statistics in several weeks, including confirmed and probable deaths due to the coronavirus, cumulative cases by county and cases and percent positive by age. According to the department, 90% of the state-level data has returned — but what remains missing is critical to fully understanding the pandemic’s scope in Maryland, public health officials say.

Several thousand people have tested positive statewide since Dec. 4, the last day officials reported daily infection metrics before the cyberattack before the state’s COVID dashboard was restored last week. Then, during a brief pause in daily reporting during Christmas, the health department logged more than 25,000 new cases, smashing previous records.

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The swells in cases, hospitalizations and positivity rate have risen in tandem with the fast-moving omicron variant, which officials from the World Health Organization identified as a “variant of concern” last month, immediately following Thanksgiving. Since then, cases and bed occupancy levels have surged in several parts of the world.

The spikes have occurred while the country struggles to supply enough COVID-19 tests to capture the true nature of the new variant. In Maryland, test seekers have reported long lines, slow turnaround times and difficulty finding take-home kits.

Hospitals, meanwhile, are buckling under the current demands, with several shifting to crisis mode this week.

The University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake was the first to declare a “disaster” last week, which triggers new protocols and care standards.

“While UM UCH may be the first in Maryland to formally implement [crisis standards of care], they will not be the last,” said Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander at the University of Maryland Medical System, in a Friday statement, adding that the medical network is activating its surge plans and working to reduce surgical volumes to keep afloat.

A convergence of COVID-19 with the seasonal flu and other respiratory viruses are beating down on an already depleted health care system, said Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, in an interview last week.

Winter is typically a more hectic time for hospitals, he said. But this year, there’s also a shortage of clinical providers able to handle the patient load, Delbridge said.

“Clinical staff is at a premium, and consequently though they have physical space the amount of clinical care is more limited. And that is a concern when we know we’re heading into a busy time of year,” he said.

But Delbridge also said the problem is being compounded by people who aren’t vaccinated, who make up the majority of all COVID-19 hospital patients. He urged the public to wear masks indoors — even in jurisdictions without mask mandates — and stay home when they feel sick or may have been exposed.

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