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Maryland health department COVID data still unavailable in wake of cyberattack

Several COVID-19 data points remain missing from the Maryland Department of Health website after a cyberattack earlier this month forced the agency to temporarily take its website offline.

The daily COVID-19 hospitalization tally has returned and shows a dramatic increase in volume since the website stopped reporting other disease surveillance numbers such as the daily case count, daily death toll, testing volume and testing positivity rate. Since Dec. 3, hospital bed occupancy has spiked nearly 45%, according to state data.

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On Thursday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said website postings would be fully restored by Friday. None of the data has been compromised, he said, and the network security breach “hasn’t put us in any kind of a tough position when it comes to the data in our system.”

But with data still incomplete Monday, the health department won’t say why the metrics remain outdated or when they might return.

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“Restoring our full COVID-19 data reporting capabilities after the recent network security incident is one of the Maryland Department of Health’s top priorities,” spokesman Andy Owen said in a Monday email. “Our vaccine, hospitalization, and congregate and school outbreak data reports are all up to date currently. Our remaining data reports will be updated at the earliest opportunity.”

A representative from Hogan’s office did not respond Monday to a request for comment about his remarks.

Public health experts said the reporting gaps leave health care systems and government leaders vulnerable to the coronavirus, which has surged in several places after the Thanksgiving holiday and due to the rise of more contagious variants such as delta and omicron. It also leaves the public in the dark about the state of the pandemic where they live and could hamper them from making fully informed decisions about their behaviors.

“There are lots of individual consequences for people who are engaging in the health care system, but at a population level, and for the control of infectious diseases, it’s important to have that info about testing and to do case investigation quickly,” said Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, in an interview last week. “It’s important for us to be tracking that and to be preventing as many infections as possible.”

Before the halt in reporting, the state’s testing positivity rate stood at 5.43%, above the recommended 5% threshold that the World Health Organization and others cite as the marker for when community transmission has become widespread. It can mean either not enough testing is being done or that only the sickest individuals are getting tested, which pushes up the average.

In addition to some COVID-19 metrics, local health departments also were affected in the wake of the attack, the state agency said in an internal memo obtained last week by The Baltimore Sun. It was not clear whether those channels had been fully restored Monday.

On Friday, the Maryland Hospital Association acknowledged a “spike in cases” in a tweet, though it did not quantify the increase. The organization cautioned the public that fewer clinicians were available to treat patients in need of both COVID-19 and non-COVID-19 care.

Baltimore Sun reporter Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.

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