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(Feb. 5, 2021) With variants of the coronavirus now appearing in Maryland, officials are encouraging residents to get the covid-19 vaccine when doses become available. 

“We must remain patient throughout this process and respect the phased-in prioritization as the supply of vaccines from the federal government remains limited,” said Sen. Mary Beth Carozza (R-38). “This limitation could result in a delay of in-clinic availability or appointments filling up faster than expected. I will provide the most up-to-date information as it becomes available.”

Last Saturday, Gov. Larry Hogan announced that the state health department, in consultation with the CDC, confirmed that a Baltimore area resident had contracted the South African variant of covid-19.

According to a press release, the individual has not traveled internationally, meaning community transmission is more likely. Contact tracing is underway to ensure that potential contacts are quickly identified, quarantined and tested.

The B.1.351 variant, as it’s officially known, was first discovered in the U.S. on Jan. 28 with two cases in South Carolina.

The new mutation has not been shown to cause more severe illness or to increase risk of death when compared to other strains of the virus, but is believed to be more contagious.

Initial evidence suggests that vaccines are likely to protect individuals against the variant. In addition, available diagnostic tests are expected to detect the B.1.351 variant.

“State health officials are closely monitoring the B.1.351 variant of SARS-CoV-2 in the state,” Hogan said. “We strongly encourage Marylanders to practice extra caution to limit the additional risk of transmission associated with this variant. Please continue to practice standard public health and safety measures, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”

This is the second mutated version of covid-19 detected in the state, with what is known as “the UK variant” having being identified on Jan. 12. Seven cases of that particular virus have been identified in Maryland since that time. 

Last Friday, the state launched a grassroots public outreach campaign, called GoVAX, to promote “vaccine confidence” and encourage citizens to get the vaccine when doses become available to them. 

doses chart

Although federal guidelines make two million Marylanders eligible for the covid-19 vaccine, the state is only receiving 11,000 doses per day. As of Thursday, nearly 74 percent of first doses have been administered by Maryland providers.

Hogan said ambassadors of the campaign include medical professionals, academic leaders, educators, faith-based and nonprofit leaders, business leaders, first responders and community advocates. These ambassadors will share their personal stories about getting vaccinated to encourage others to do the same.

“One particular area of focus for this GoVAX campaign and our statewide vaccination plan will be tackling the initial vaccine hesitancy that we see in minority populations and underserved communities, which have been disproportionately affected by this pandemic,” Hogan said during a press conference at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in Baltimore City.

The campaign includes a mix of traditional and digital media, such as TV, billboards, social media and Zoom.

Multilingual campaign materials and videos feature trusted leaders and community advocates discussing their decisions to get vaccinated, confidence in clinical trials and belief in vaccine efficacy.

GoVAX will run throughout 2021 and the campaign will evolve as vaccine supply increases and more Marylanders become eligible to receive vaccinations, according to a press release.

Hogan also announced last Friday that Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead of the Maryland National Guard will head the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force to ensure equitable distribution of the vaccines.

In addition, The Maryland Emergency Management Agency (MEMA), through Maryland’s Public Assistance Program, has been coordinating with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide funding to support the vaccination effort. FEMA has already provided almost $648.2 million to state and local agencies and certain nonprofits, such as hospital systems, to help ease the financial burden. 

“We look forward to continuing to work with our federal partners at FEMA to increase access to vaccinations throughout Maryland,” said Russ Strickland, executive director of MEMA, in a press release. 

Maryland is in Phase 1C of the vaccine distribution plan, which includes individuals who are currently hospitalized, are solid organ transplant recipients, are actively receiving cancer treatment or diagnosed with end stage renal disease patients requiring hemodialysis, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD), sickle cell disease and  Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.

At this time, Maryland is only receiving 11,000 doses per day from the federal government.

Beginning Friday, the state will open a series of mass vaccination sites to serve eligible residents, with the first of these set to open at the Baltimore Convention Center and Six Flags America in Prince George’s County. 

Atlantic General Hospital has received slightly more than 3,800 doses of the vaccine so far. Community members in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C have received 2,782 of those doses. The hospital has 319 staff members who have completed Pfizer and 219 who have completed Moderna. Another 200 staff members have completed the first dose of Moderna.

Currently, the hospital is offering covid-19 vaccine clinics for targeted risk groups every week in the main lobby by appointment only. 

“We are still focusing on individuals 65 years and older on Tuesdays through Thursdays, said Sarah Yonker, director of marketing at Atlantic General Hospital. “Fridays are for educators.”

Yonker said the clinics for people 65 and older last week went well and community members have complimented the hospital after receiving the vaccine.

“They all have had questions and concerns about the second appointment and vaccine,” Yonker said. “If you are vaccinated at AGH, you will be given a follow up appointment for your second dose. We are committed to vaccinating our community as long as we continue receiving the vaccine. The daily moderate size clinics are working well.”

Last week, 483 community members and 107 employees were vaccinated.

“We always have a few community members who will cancel,” Yonker added. “We also remove anyone who does not meet the age or phase qualifications. We want to stress that each clinic has a new waiting list. The waiting list does not roll over. Each clinic stands alone.”

Online registration is required through the state of Maryland’s covid-19 vaccine scheduling website, marylandvax.org

Photo identification is required at the appointment. Patients and community members are advised to arrive no more than 15 minutes prior to their appointment.

For more information about how to register for a vaccine clinic, visit agh.care/vaccine or call the coronavirus vaccine information line at 410-641-9272. 

In Worcester County, 7,062 people have received the first dose, or 13.51 percent of the population. Meanwhile, 1,438 people have received the second dose, or just 2.75 percent of the county population.

As of Wednesday, the Worcester County Health Department has received 3,640 first doses from the state and 1,200 second doses. This Saturday a clinic is being held primarily for individuals receiving their second dose, said Travis Brown, public affairs officer for the health department.

“Due to limits in vaccine supply, we do not anticipate new first dose clinics next week,” Brown added. “However, we won’t know all of the details until we confirm the number of vaccine doses we will receive later this week.”

In the meantime, individuals in eligible phases can call 667-253-2140 to add their names to a waiting list. Individuals are advised to leave a phone number, so they can be notified when an appointment time becomes available based on eligibility. 

The number that will show up when the Worcester County Health Department COVID-19 Vaccine Call Center calls you back, will come up as 410-632-1100 or 410-632-1016.”

The call center will request the following information: first name, last name, email address, phone number, age, first dose or second dose, Phase 1C eligibility, any underlying health conditions, and county and state of residence.

“As per the state directive issued last week, we prioritize individuals 65 years and older and give them priority on our waiting lists,” Brown said.

Vaccination scheduling is also available through community health partners in Worcester, both public and private, according to the local health department. 

To find a clinic, visit https://maryland.maps.arcgis.com/apps/instant/nearby/index.html?appid=0dbfb100676346ed9758be319ab3f40c&find&fbclid=IwAR3F7hd1_hDySyl3192BXnTYgTHGhayanLN-U99kgywKWAFmRiIAmKQtDVs.

The Ocean City Fire Department has joined the Worcester County Health Department to assist in administering the vaccine. Battalion Chief Rick Koch has been designated as the liaison between the fire department and the health department to distribute the vaccinations based on availability. 

With a goal to offer at least one clinic per week, Ocean City paramedics hosted clinics this Wednesday and Thursday at Northside Park on 125th Street. 

Ashley Miller, the deputy communications manager for the Ocean City Police Department, said all employees who received the first dose will have completed their second dose by Friday. The vaccines are administered by the Ocean City Fire Department. 

As for the Berlin Police Department, Chief Arnold Downing said six officers have received the second dose at this time. Civilian staff started receiving vaccinations on Jan. 12. Three civilian staff members will receive their second doses on Feb. 9.

Through the federal long-term care program, CVS and Walgreens are conducting vaccination clinics at Maryland nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

Participating CVS pharmacies in Baltimore, Bowie, Chester, Frederick, Fulton, Hagerstown, Ocean City and Rockville will begin to administer vaccines to eligible populations on Feb. 11.

Patients must register in advance at CVS.com or through the CVS Pharmacy app. People without online access can contact CVS customer service at 800-746-7287. Walk-in vaccinations without an appointment will not be provided.

Giant, Walmart, Safeway and Rite Aid pharmacies have also joined the state’s vaccine distribution network in critical areas.

For vaccine information and resources, visit covidlink.maryland.gov.

As of Thursday, Worcester’s covid-19 positivity rate was 6.67 percent, a decrease from 7.51 percent last week. That’s still higher than the state’s rate of 5.89 percent.

Worcester has confirmed 85 new cases since last week. This brings the county’s total cases since March to 3,103.

The Maryland Department of Health reported Berlin and Ocean Pines had 1,256 and Ocean City had 792.

Worcester has recorded 79 deaths from covid-19, 18 of which were residents of the Berlin Nursing Home.

The Maryland Department of Health reports 44 staff cases and 73 residential cases of covid-19 at the Berlin Nursing Home.

As of Wednesday afternoon, 14 patients with coronavirus were in Atlantic General Hospital – 10 in the medical/surgical unit and four in the intensive care unit, Yonker said.

Hospital personnel have cared for seven patients who have come off a ventilator. Atlantic General has discharged 218 coronavirus patients who are recovering.

In the meantime, public health officials are encouraging anyone who feels sick, or who may have had contact with someone who is to get tested. All Worcester County residents, employees and their children 8 years and older who are experiencing covid-19 symptoms are eligible for testing.

People who suspect they may have the virus should call their primary care providers or the health department. The Worcester County Health Department has a hotline Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. to determine if a person should be tested. Call 410-632-1100, select option eight and then press one.

The Worcester County Commission on Aging at 4767 Snow Hill Road, in Snow Hill, Maryland 21863, offers drive-through covid-19 testing on Wednesdays from 1-3:30 p.m. by appointment only. Testing dates are scheduled for Feb. 10, Feb. 17 and Feb. 24.

Worcester County Health Department offers drive-through covid testing at the Pocomoke Health Department site, 400 Walnut St. # A, Pocomoke City, Maryland 21851, by appointment only for adults 18 years and older Mondays from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Testing is available on Feb. 8, Feb. 15, and Feb. 22.

In addition, the health department offers drive-through covid testing at the West Ocean City Park and Ride at 12848 Ocean Gateway in Ocean City by appointment only on Thursdays from 1-3:30 p.m. Testing dates are scheduled for Feb. 11, Feb. 18 and Feb. 25.

Additionally, Saturday hours for covid-19 testing have been expanded at Atlantic ImmediCare urgent care clinic on 10th Street. Individuals can now get a test between 8 a.m. and 2 p.m. on Saturdays. No appointment is necessary. Weekday hours for walk-in testing continue to be 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Because of high demand for testing, anyone planning to arrive after 2 p.m. during the week is asked to call ahead. The testing clinic can be reached at 410-289-0065.

Rapid tests are available for patients experiencing two or more symptoms of the coronavirus. Exposure to someone with covid-19 is not a factor for rapid testing. If a patient does not meet the criteria to have a rapid test, they can still have the standard test. Turnaround time varies from 48 hours to five days.

For more information, visit www.agh.care/COVID19. 

To track Maryland cases, visit coronavirus.maryland.gov/.

Marylanders are also encouraged to sign up for additional updates by texting ‘MdReady’ to 898-211. 

To report a restaurant or bar for not following safety guidelines, call the county environmental health department at 410-352-3234.

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