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(Feb. 19, 2021) Gov. Larry Hogan made several announcements related to the covid-19 pandemic during a press conference last Thursday, including a testing program for schools, limited visitation for Maryland hospitals and nursing homes and a new initiative to have counties appoint equity officers to address vaccine hesitancy.

“In coordination with the Maryland Hospital Association, the Maryland Department of Health will be issuing orders to allow for limited visitation to resume at Maryland hospitals, subject to the policy set at each facility,” Hogan said. “In addition, state health officials will also issue guidance, which will provide for limited indoor visitation at Maryland nursing homes beginning March 1.”

In addition, the governor said that 22 of the 24 school systems statewide have begun in-person instruction or plan to do so by March 1.

Hogan also announced that Brig. Gen Janeen Birckhead, head of the Maryland Vaccine Equity Task Force, is asking each county to appoint an equity officer to serve as a liaison in order to closely coordinate on equity initiatives. Birckhead and the task force, along with county equity officers, will be working with local organizations and clinical partners to stand up mobile clinics to reach critical populations.

The task force includes the Office of Lt. Gov. Boyd K. Rutherford, Maryland Office of Minority Health and Health Disparities Director Dr. Noel Brathwaite and Deputy Director Dr. Mark Martin and Assistant Medicaid Director Tricia Roddy. 

The task force will leverage resources with close connections to critical communities, such as the state’s Vaccine Advisory Group, the Governor’s Office of Community Initiatives, the state’s network of Medicaid providers and additional public sector and community partners. 

In addition, the task force will serve as a clearinghouse for proposals and requests from nonprofit, faith-based and community organizations seeking to serve vulnerable populations. 

The governor added that the demand for vaccines will exceed the supply for the foreseeable future. 

“The basic problem is pretty simple – we need more damn vaccines,” he said. “If I needed to drain the entire Rainy Day fund to buy enough vaccines for every eligible Marylander, I would do so today. Unfortunately, we have no control whatsoever over this supply problem. Only the federal government can buy the vaccines, and only the federal government can send us the vaccines.”

In the meantime, the state has built the infrastructure to administer 50,000 to 100,000 shots per day as higher allocations of vaccines become available. 

“Six weeks ago, Maryland providers were averaging about 3,000 shots per day,” Hogan said. “At the time, the state allocations were being deployed primarily to hospitals for their frontline healthcare workers and to 24 local health departments for them to vaccinate their own first responders and critical healthcare workers.”

Since then, vaccines have been deployed to more providers in every county to increase the number of vaccines administered by more than 770 percent.

Now, more than 200 providers are listed on covidvax.maryland.gov. Citizens can find providers by zip code. Vaccinations are by appointment only, and some providers may allow pre-registration. 

Every week, the state waits for more vaccines to arrive. 

“The CDC officials have now agreed to begin providing states with two-week allocation projections instead of one,” the governor said. “Up until now, state health officials had to wait until Thursday, Friday and sometimes even Saturday night of each week to know what we could allocate to anyone for the following week. I’ve now directed the Maryland Department of Health to provide county officials with four-week allocation projections, so that they can plan ahead and can open up more appointments for their clinics.”

He added that allocations will increase to each county as a whole across all providers. Allocations are made equitably based on population.

Additionally, mass vaccination sites are being finalized in western Maryland, southern Maryland and on the Eastern Shore. 

“We will be ready to open them next month as more vaccines become available to us from the federal government,” Hogan said.  

Also, a statewide call center will be launched to help citizens register for the mass vaccination sites. 

Hogan added that the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine candidate may be approved by the end of this month.

Recently, the Maryland Department of Health confirmed that a P.1 strain of the coronavirus, commonly known as the Brazil variant, was contracted by an adult older than 65 from the National Capital Region, who recently passed away following international travel. 

“State public health officials are closely monitoring the P.1 variant, and we mourn the loss of this Marylander to COVID-19” Hogan stated in a press release Wednesday evening. “As we continue to test for these variants, we strongly encourage Marylanders to continue taking precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including mask wearing, regular hand washing, and physical distancing.”

At this time, the variant is believed to be more transmissible than the initial strain of the virus that causes covid-19, however, it is not certain yet whether the P.1 variant causes more severe disease than other mutations.

On Tuesday, Hogan submitted a $1.59 billion supplemental budget to the legislature as an amendment to the governor’s proposed budget for Fiscal Year 2022. The supplemental budget provides $9 million to support local health departments.  

In Worcester County, 9,381 people have received the first dose, or 17.9 percent of the population. Meanwhile, 3,742 people have received the second dose, or just 7.2 percent of the county population.

As of Thursday, the Worcester County Health Department has received 3,500 first doses and administered 3,148 of them. 

The Worcester County Health Departments hosts vaccine clinics at the Worcester County Recreation Center in Snow Hill on Tuesdays, West Ocean City Park and Ride on Thursdays, the Elks Lodge in Pocomoke on Fridays and the Worcester County Health Department facility in Snow Hill on Saturdays when doses are available.

The health department has updated how it registers individuals for the vaccine clinics. There is now a single central waiting listing that includes all clinics operated by Worcester Health. To register for this waiting list, call 667-253-2140.

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.

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 are hosting clinics in the community room at Northside Park on 125th Street and the Worcester Street Police Substation. 

So far, Atlantic General Hospital has received 5,570 doses of the vaccine, said Sarah Yonker, director of marketing for the hospital.

Community members in Phases 1A, 1B and 1C have received about 4,261 of those doses as of Feb. 13. The hospital has 319 staff members who have completed Pfizer and 307 who have completed Moderna. 

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

“Our focus this week is 65 and up for all clinics with another first dose associate clinic,” Yonker said. “More than 80 percent of our staff who provide direct patient care have been fully vaccinated.”

Last week, 1,158 doses of the vaccine were administered through the clinics. Yonker added that people are pulled from the waitlist at almost all clinics.

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. 

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, including those in Ocean City, began administering vaccines to eligible populations last Friday.

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 5.07 percent, a decrease from 6.05 percent last week. That’s still higher than the state’s rate of 4.13 percent.

Worcester has confirmed 48 new cases since last week. This brings the county’s total cases since March to 3,217.

The Maryland Department of Health reported Berlin and Ocean Pines had 1,304 and Ocean City had 808.

Worcester has recorded 91 deaths from covid-19. 

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

Hospital personnel have cared for seven patients who have come off a ventilator. Atlantic General has discharged 312 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 Health Department’s nursing department told Ocean City Today that requests for testing have significantly decreased. As a result, the last 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 is scheduled for Monday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. 

However, testing is still available at most urgent care centers and some pharmacies. People who have covid-like symptoms can also discuss options for testing with their primary care providers, according to the local health department. 

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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