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Howard County Health Department to provide funding to organizations for COVID vaccine outreach, accessibility

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball on Monday pushed for increased equitable access to the COVID-19 vaccine as the number of residents receiving vaccinations ramps up.

Ball, along with other government officials, held a news conference at St. John Baptist Church in Columbia, which is set to host an upcoming vaccination clinic to help increase awareness of vaccine efficacy.

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“Now, with expanded eligibility and increasing supply, we must do more of the hard work of ensuring that communities of color, our more vulnerable residents and people who have limited access to online registration can get their vaccine,” Ball said.

At the event, Ball shared updated data on how the coronavirus is affecting key demographics in the county. Black residents currently make up about 25% of Howard’s COVID-19 fatalities and 18% of cases, while the county’s Asian American population represents almost 12% of fatalities and nearly 9% of the cases.

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Howard’s Latino/Hispanic population, which makes up 6% of the county’s total population, represents 10.5% of COVID-19 cases. Ball on Monday did not provide the percentage of COVID-19 deaths Latino/Hispanic residents represent in the county, but according to data from the Howard County Health Department, they make up about 8.1% of fatalities.

White residents, meanwhile, make up 55% of the COVID-19 deaths in the county and 27.3% of the cases, according to health department data.

Those numbers also translate to vaccine distribution within the county: Of the 63,000 doses administered in Howard as of Monday, Ball said 13% have been given to Black residents, though they represent 20% of the county’s total population. White residents have received about 60% of the doses, according to health department data, while Asian Americans — representing about 19% of the county’s total population — have received about 12% and Latino/Hispanic residents 3%.

“This virus has exacerbated the cracks and ruptures already present in Howard County, our state and our nation,” Ball said.

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To attempt to close some of the access barriers, the Howard County Health Department announced it would be providing $1 million in grant funding to community organizations for vaccine outreach and organization.

“These grants will be critical to our census-like approach of building community partnerships and ensuring vaccine information is embedded in all corners of Howard County,” Ball said.

He also said as supply increases, the county will bring vaccines to targeted areas.

Additional demographics will now be included on the county’s online COVID-19 dashboard, Ball said, so the county can publicly monitor who has received the vaccine so far.

According to county Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman, the health department has administered 41,414 vaccine doses so far, 59% of which are first doses. Nearly 21% of county residents have received one dose of the vaccine. Ball is among those residents now, as he received the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine at the news conference Monday, administered by Rossman.

As of Monday, the weekly positivity rate in Howard — which measures the percent at which tests return positive over a seven-day period — is 2.81% with a seven-day rolling new-case rate of 12.59 per 100,000 residents, according to the Maryland Department of Health

“In the coming weeks, we hope more vaccine will become available, making it possible for everyone to be vaccinated hopefully by summertime,” Rossman said Monday.

Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano also spoke at the event, announcing the school system started vaccinating the fourth and final tier of employees on Friday.

Martirano had previously split school system staff into four tiers for vaccine distribution, with school nurses and health assistants in the first. Staff who were already working in person, such as custodians and food and nutrition staff, were in the second tier, while all school-based staff, including current substitute teachers, were third and all other nonschool-based staff were in the final tier.

Martirano said the district would be sending out another staff survey Monday so the school system can have a more accurate assessment of how many vaccine doses are still needed.

Our schools are open and vaccinations continue to lower the rates of infection, but that does not mean that we can let our guard down. We still have many vulnerable people in our community, and we must continue to exercise caution even if we are fully vaccinated,” Martirano said.

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