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Howard County officials continue urging residents to get vaccinated as COVID numbers rise

Howard County leaders on Tuesday stressed the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 at a news conference at Howard Community College.

While more than 237,000 Howard County residents have received at least one dose of a vaccine in the past eight months, according to Maryland Department of Health data, County Executive Calvin Ball said, “There is still work to be done.”

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The delta variant, Ball said, is fueling more cases with the people most at risk being the unvaccinated, including children younger than 12 who are not yet eligible to be vaccinated.

“It is our responsibility as a community to get vaccinated to protect those who can’t protect themselves,” Ball said. “Today, we are here to emphasize the urgency of getting vaccinated to our community.”

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State data shows Howard’s vaccination rates remain the highest in the state, with nearly 73% of the county’s total population having received at least one dose. Ball on Tuesday called on those vaccinated to reach out to the remaining residents who have not yet been vaccinated to convince them that vaccines are safe and effective. He asked everyone to help those unvaccinated to make an appointment, offer rides to clinics or watch family members to provide “that gentle nudge ... to get to that finish line.”

Howard County recently reached 20,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic last year, according to Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman. Over the past month, Howard County’s positivity rate — which measures the percentage of tests that returned positive results over the past seven days — has increased nearly 400% and its case rate per 100,000 people per day, reported as an average over the past seven days, has increased more than 500%, according to the Maryland Department of Health.

Rossman warned that the delta variant is “highly contagious” and residents need to be vaccinated to combat it.

“Despite our amazingly high vaccination rate, it needs to be higher,” she said. “For those waiting for the right time to become vaccinated, now is the time.”

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends wearing a mask indoors in areas with substantial community transmission of COVID-19. Most Maryland jurisdictions, including Howard County, now meet that criteria. However, there are currently no plans to reimplement a statewide or countywide mask mandate. Masks are required for those not vaccinated when in Howard County government buildings, which were fully reopened to the public last week.

With public schools opening in less than three weeks, Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano said staff, students and visitors will be required to wear masks indoors. He stressed that “the greatest protection” is the vaccine.

“I am here today to encourage all parents of students who are in our school system to strongly, strongly consider the vaccine for their child,” Martirano said, noting that it would help keep students safe and school doors open.

Nearly 79% of county residents ages 12 to 17 have received at least one vaccine dose, according to the county, and approximately 71% are fully vaccinated.

Martirano said he was excited to welcome staff and students back for “normalized learning.”

“I firmly believe that providing in-school instruction for all of our students is the right decision and is the only decision,” he said. “However, we need to stay very aware of the risk the virus could spread in a school, requiring students and staff to be out of the building for an extended period of time.”

Howard Community College is also requiring masking on campus and in all school buildings for the upcoming fall semester, which starts Aug. 28.

The first of the “Why Get Vaxxed” series of public service announcements also premiered at the event. Created by the Howard County Health Department, the 30-second videos feature different groups, including a family, a chef and a vaccine trial participant who is Black, explaining why they got vaccinated. The videos will be released over the next three weeks.

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