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Carroll County commissioners question Maryland’s COVID vaccine priorities

Carroll County’s commissioners criticized the way the state is handling COVID-19 vaccinations Thursday, noting that Gov. Larry Hogan and other leaders are focused on mass vaccination clinics at the expense of getting vaccine doses out to local health departments that are better able to inoculate those most vulnerable.

County Health Officer Ed Singer has said the Carroll County Heath Department is not getting anywhere near the amount of vaccine it is requesting, and thousands of Carroll residents older than 75 have not been able to get the vaccine, sparking frustration.

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“This isn’t just coming from the rural counties. It’s coming from every county and every city in the state. It’s just hard to understand why there is such a priority to put these vaccinations in the mass vaccine clinics and the pharmacies when the people who know best about getting these needles in arms are local health departments,” said Commissioner Stephen Wantz, R-District 1. “I don’t understand why the word’s not getting to the State House.”

The county health department has administered 7,654 first doses, including 1,084 of 1,200 allotted by the state this week, according to numbers presented at Thursday morning’s Board of Commissioners meeting. County health planner Maggie Kunz told the commissioners a clinic had been held in Taneytown on Wednesday and that clinics are scheduled for Westminster and Mount Airy next week.

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The commissioners, however, all noted the volume of messages they are receiving from Carroll residents who can’t get the vaccine locally.

“This has zero to do with politics. This has zero to do with constituency. It has everything to do with community and neighbors and identifying the most vulnerable populations and getting the needles in their arms and also ensuring they have a way to get to where they need to go,” said Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5. “And it’s not the regional centers in Prince George’s County and Baltimore City — it’s up in Taneytown and Eldersburg and Mount Airy ... it’s getting it local. I’ll continue to beat that drum.”

Along those lines, Rothstein talked about a letter sent to the governor from the Maryland Association of Counties.

“We still believe that those that know the situation best are, as I would say in the military, the commanders on the ground, and that’s Ed Singer and others, on where the most vulnerable are to be vaccinated. ... That was the sentiment of the letter that all jurisdictions signed,” the board president said. “Will it make a difference? I’m not expecting to jump up and down and say it will. But we will continue to be persistent.”

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Carroll County government announced Thursday that the Carroll Transit System is available to take residents with transportation issues to Carroll County COVID-19 vaccination clinics. After scheduling a vaccination appointment with the health department, anyone interested in transportation should call 410-386-5550, according to a news release.

Later Thursday, the health department reported 25 new cases of COVID-19 in Carroll, but because of data reconciliation, 19 older cases were removed from previous totals, making a net increase of only six.

There have been 121 total cases reported this week, up a bit from last week when 105 had been reported through Thursday. Each of the previous five weeks saw case totals retroactively decline Thursday. The data reconciliation can include cases where individuals receive two positive test results but because personal information is filled out slightly different in each, the cases do not automatically merge and more than one is created, according to a health department spokesperson. These are discovered during periodic manual review.

Last week’s updated total of 204 cases was the fewest in Carroll since the week of Nov. 1, when 156 cases were reported. Numbers began climbing in mid-November into the mid-200s, the 300s and the 400s before peaking at a newly adjusted record of 518 the week of Jan. 3. Since then, case numbers have been in decline, with 389 the week of Jan. 10, followed by 309 and 308.

Of Thursday’s 25 new cases, eight were from congregate living facilities — four Westminster Brightview residents, three cases in facilities so small the health department doesn’t identify them due to privacy concerns and one Lorien Mt. Airy resident.

The Maryland Department of Health reported 1,199 new coronavirus cases Thursday, along with 21 deaths attributable to COVID-19.

The case rate per 100,000 residents in Carroll County, reported as a seven-day rolling average, rose by more than 1 percentage point to 19.59%. Carroll’s positivity rate, also reported as a seven-day rolling average, rose by nearly half a percentage point to 6.04%.

Of the 5,955 community members who have tested positive in Carroll, 222 are younger than 10 years old; 678 are in the 10-19 range; 1,056 are 20-29 years old; 846 are 30-39; 810 are 40-49; 1,119 are 50-59; 719 are 60-69; 342 are 70-79; 140 are 80-89; and 24 are in their 90s. Women have accounted for 3,093 of the positive tests, men for 2,862.

Carroll has had 7,136 total COVID-19 cases. Westminster has reported the most with 2,477 across two ZIP codes, followed by Sykesville/Eldersburg with 1,761, Mount Airy with 572, Hampstead with 518, Manchester with 456, Taneytown with 438, Finksburg with 357, New Windsor with 184, Woodbine with 120, Marriottsville with 96, Union Bridge with 86 and Keymar with 59. Data is not released in ZIP codes with seven cases or fewer.

Carroll is in Phase 1B of the state’s vaccine distribution plan, which means residents who are at least 75 years old and educators are eligible to be vaccinated by the health department. The health department is asking residents who want to receive the vaccine to complete interest forms for their phase of vaccination. These forms can be found online at cchd.maryland.gov/covid-19-interest-forms. More information on the state phases can be found at covidlink.maryland.gov/content/vaccine. More information on COVID-19 vaccinations in Carroll County can be found on the health department’s page at cchd.maryland.gov/covid-19-vaccination.

Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call the hotline between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 410-876-4848, or contact their doctor. After hours, callers may leave a message or call 211. People with emergencies should continue to call 911.

Baltimore Sun reporter Alex Mann contributed to this article.

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