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COVID-19 mass vaccination site to open at Ripken Stadium the week of April 19, Gov. Hogan says

The state will establish a mass-vaccination center at Ripken Stadium on the week of April 19, Gov. Larry Hogan announced Thursday.

After the announcement, Harford County Executive Barry Glassman said he wanted to get the site up and running as soon as possible. Glassman said the site was expected to have a life span of three to six months and aim to deliver 3,000 vaccinations a day. He said it will be a drive-through site open Tuesday through Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

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Hogan also announced Thursday that the state would aim to accelerate the COVID-19 vaccine prioritization schedule, and authorized adults 16 and older to start preregistering for appointments.

The governor said, while the rise of infections and positivity rates raised alarms, the trends were not correlated to the state’s lifting of capacity limits at bars, restaurants, gyms and other indoor spaces last month. He said the state is concerned about the new, more contagious variants moving down the East Coast.

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The variants have been circulating in the U.S. since this winter. They not only spread easier but also may resist vaccines and other therapeutics at higher rates than other strains.

“We meet almost every day with our team of experts and public health researchers, and we’re following the science. We don’t think it had anything to do with reopening,” Hogan said, pointing to the surges in New York and New England, which have stricter guidelines in place. “Our indications are these variants are much more contagious.”

Harford County Health Officer David Bishai says the county’s rise in positivity rating does not stem from an outsize presence of variants, but because some residents are not masking, washing their hands and maintaining social distancing.

The age groups from 20- to 50-years-old is driving the increase. The county’s most recent spike could be attributed to mid-March social events, like St. Patrick’s Day, and increased positive cases in schools, but the issue goes back to the fall and a lackluster recovery in January, he previously said.

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While the vaccines are effective against variants, Glassman stressed the need for continued social distancing and masking and encouraged county residents to get vaccinated when they can.

Phase 3 of the vaccination schedule has not yet begun, meaning that adults aged 60 and above, educators, some essential employees, health care workers and those with some medical conditions will still be prioritized for time slots. Hogan said those who preregister now can select their top two preferred vaccination sites.

Harford County officials requested the state use Ripken Stadium as a mass vaccination site in early February, proffering the stadium as an easily-accessible hub near Interstate 95 and Route 40 that could serve the state’s north east region in a letter to acting secretary of health Dennis R. Schrader.

Lawmakers representing Harford County also got on board, with Democratic Dels. Mary Ann Lisanti and Steve Johnson writing to Schrader about using the stadium. Republican Sen. J.B. Jennings also recommended a mass vaccination clinic be opened in Harford County in a letter to Hogan, though he did not specify where.

State and federal officials toured the stadium in late March to evaluate it as a possible site. The other contender was the vacant Mars supermarket at the Woodbridge Shopping Center, off Route 40 in Edgewood, but Glassman previously said the parking lot there was inadequate for the volume of people expected at a mass clinic.

Aberdeen Mayor Patrick McGrady said he was pleased to hear that Ripken Stadium would be used as a mass-vaccination site.

“This is another step toward getting back to the old normal,” he said. “Hopefully, by summer, we will be hugging and barbecuing and enjoying baseball games at Ripken Stadium!”

Ripken Stadium will also host graduations and start up its minor-league baseball season concurrent to hosting the mass-vaccination site, but officials said the site can balance all three.

Hogan also pressed county health officers and executives on Thursday to submit their localized vaccine distribution equity plans to his office by Monday. So far, only Anne Arundel, Caroline, Carroll, Garrett, Howard, Kent, Prince George’s, Frederick, Somerset, St. Mary’s and Wicomico counties had turned theirs in, according to a Maryland Department of Health spokesperson.

Bishai said the county’s equity plan was drafted in February, but there was some confusion over where to send it. The county health department frequently communicates with the state, and while they showed the equity plan to the Maryland Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities, that was not the right agency to reveal it to.

He said he is prepared to send the plan to the state when he gets a clear indication of who needs to see it.

Bishai said the equity plan has already been implemented. He said it includes routable discussions with predominantly Black churches, mobile vaccination clinics approved by the state and hiring community health personnel, along with other features.

The health department also plans to establish its own vaccine clinic at the Woodbridge Shopping Center in Edgewood, he said. It is going to sign a lease on the building and renovate it for use as a clinic to open in the first week of May.

The health department’s approach has worked, he said; the health department’s vaccination of Black county residents outstrips their proportion of vaccinations done at mass-vaccination sites. That suggests that geography is a factor in getting populations vaccinated, not hesitancy to get the shot.

“The data indicates that it is geography much more than hesitancy,” he said. “It is just a matter of making a long trip in a middle of a day when you have to work.”

In late March, the county was approved for two mobile vaccination clinics to be shared with counties on the Eastern Shore to address concerns of equitable vaccine distribution.

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Baltimore Sun reporters Hallie Miller and Alex Mann contributed to this article

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