On the one-year anniversary of the first coronavirus case being reported in Harford County, its top elected official said Monday that his jurisdiction wasn’t receiving its fair share of the COVID-19 vaccines from the state.
In a statement, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said that the vaccines have been game-changers, “but too many of our residents are still scrambling for appointments” because of vaccine availability, which remains a problem in the state.
Harford County received the second-lowest allocation of vaccines per 1,000 residents from Dec. 14 through Feb. 28, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health. Though the state had previously pledged to apportion vaccines by population, many populous jurisdictions in the state rank near the bottom of the per-capita allocation list.
A COVID-19 vaccine allocation policy from the Maryland Department of Health saw the state send a disproportionately small supply of vaccines to more populated counties when adjusted per capita, according to data from the first 11 weeks of vaccinations.
All but one of Maryland’s six-most populous jurisdictions, Baltimore City, received below-average per capita allocations of first vaccine doses. Three of the most populous, including Harford, were in the bottom five. All of the state’s six least populous jurisdictions had above-average allocations per 1,000 residents — and three were in the top five.
“Local government leaders had been assured that Maryland was distributing vaccines based on population, so I was extremely disappointed to learn that there are wide disparities,” Glassman said in his statement. “Clearly the state needs to refocus on equity and on balancing distribution by population.”
That lopsided apportionment has drawn criticism from state and local leaders, who have asked the state to more freely distribute data on where the allocations are going.
In an interview Monday, Glassman said that Harford’s position on the list is concerning for seniors and those who do not have internet access, which is the chief way to secure an appointment.
The number of residents who have gotten a vaccine, he said, is an exhibition of how “nimble” Harford residents have been in scheduling an appointment wherever one can be found. Some cannot be so quick on the draw to secure the coveted vaccine appointments, sparking groups of volunteers to directly aid others in signing up.
“My concern is for the elderly, those folks that are not connected to the internet and just out of fairness,” Glassman said. “When you talk about equitable distribution, we should be a lot further up the list based on our population.”
Glassman sent a letter to the state asking for more complete data on the vaccination effort. In a response, acting secretary of the Maryland Department of Health Dennis Schrader wrote back that the number of residents who get a vaccine is a more accurate accounting of equitable distribution than the number of vaccines allocated by population.
Schrader’s March 6 letter states that Harford County residents got the shots at a slightly higher rate than the state average, which was 15.6%. During that time, Harford sat at 16.8%, the letter states.
Harford is the eighth-most populous jurisdiction in Maryland, according to census estimates, but its 92 allocated doses per 1,000 people was the second-lowest; only
Anne Arundel County’s per capita allocation of 88 per 1,000 was lower. Anne Arundel is the state’s sixth largest jurisdiction. With about 19,000 people, Kent County got 283 first doses per 1,000 residents — the most in the state, despite being the least populous.
As of Monday, nearly 43,800 Harford residents or about 17% of the county’s population had received their first dose of the vaccine. Another 25,200, almost 10%, had received a second dose.
The Harford County Health Department has received 15,900 doses of the vaccine, but not all vaccinations were administered in the county were by the department.
Through mid-February, about 29% of county residents got their first doses from the Harford County Health Department, according to Schrader’s letter. At least 9.2% of residents were inoculated by the Baltimore city and county health departments.
“To some extent, they are going out[side Harford] because we are not getting our share here,” Glassman said.
Schrader’s letter did not indicate how many Harford residents have been going to mass vaccination sites like the Baltimore Convention Center, M&T Bank Stadium or Six Flags. County Health Officer David Bishai reported to the county council a few weeks ago that 11% of all Harford residents vaccinated the week of Feb. 15 had their doses administered at the Six Flags site in Prince George’s County.
In February, Glassman and other county leaders signed a letter to the state health department recommending Ripken Stadium in Aberdeen be used as a mass vaccination site. The state has received that request, Glassman said, which is also an open invitation to federal agencies that may wish to establish a mass vaccination site there.
A year of COVID-19
Since the first reported coronavirus cases this time last year, guided by a flurry of fluid executive orders from Gov. Larry Hogan, schools shuttered, sports came to a halt and restaurants and bars closed their doors, among other unwelcome changes to Marylanders’ daily routines.
But one year later, eateries have reopened, though at lower capacities than normal. After much ado, school is back in-session for limited in-person instruction with the possibility of further reopening. County parks and recreation facilities have opened, and restrictions on athletics have relaxed.
Those shifts in guidance, from a county management perspective, made the pandemic a whirlwind, Glassman said Monday, reflecting on the anniversary. The county executive joked his hair has gotten two shades grayer in the year since the virus first appeared in Maryland. But the resilience of businesses and residents, he said, has allowed the county to largely weather the storm, as has the mutual generosity within Harford County communities, he said.
Before the virus hit, the county had invested in electronic infrastructure, allowing residents to pay their bills, apply for permits and get other county services without the need to go to a government building, which allowed it to continue serving citizens at a distance.
“To some extent, you just handle each day as it comes,” Glassman said. “The days roll into weeks and the weeks have rolled into a year.”
According to a recent poll from Goucher College, the pandemic has taken its toll on Marylanders’ mental well-being. The results published Monday show that 55% of respondents from across the state said they feel frustrated more often since the pandemic began last year; 50% also said they feel stressed more often. About a third of those surveyed said they feel angry more often since the pandemic began, and 45% of surveyed Marylanders said they felt sad more often, according to the poll.
Since March 8, Harford County has seen 12,750 cases of COVID-19, accounting for 237 deaths and four probable deaths, according to data from the state. Across the state, 388,035 cases had been confirmed as of Monday, and 7,781 people have died.
Mirroring nationwide trends, the county’s health department has been working to equitably distribute the vaccine to communities of color. As of February, 14% of the county’s non-Hispanic white and Asian populations had received a first-dose of the vaccine, while only 7% of its Black population and 6% of its Hispanic population had gotten their first dose, according to data from the health department.
The Morning Sun
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced Monday that fully vaccinated people can gather indoors without masking masking or distancing, though the organization advised them to continue masking and distancing in public.
Glassman said that is an encouraging sign, but he will continue monitoring the relevant metrics.