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CUMBERLAND, Md. — Allegany and Garrett counties Tuesday had some of Maryland’s highest COVID-19 case rates and lowest vaccination percentages.

Garrett County topped Maryland’s seven-day positivity percentage at 13.85%, Allegany County was at 10.35% and the statewide average was 4.89%.

Allegany County’s seven-day moving average case rate was 39.97, which was second only to Dorchester County at 51.9. Garrett County was the third highest in Maryland at 37.42. The statewide average was 16.94.

“When it comes to COVID-19, being the county with the highest (seven-day) positivity percentage is not where you want to be, but that’s exactly where Garrett County is right now,” Garrett County Health Department Public Information Officer Diane Lee said via press release on the department’s website Tuesday.

“The percentage of 12+ population vaccinated in Garrett County ranks at the bottom of Maryland’s counties,” she said.

At 48%, less than half of eligible Garrett County residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccination.

“Although vaccine hesitancy remains strong in the county, evidence continues to mount that the vaccines do work,” Garrett County Deputy Health Officer and Medical Director Dr. Jennifer Corder said via the release.

Roughly 95% of confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland since January have been among unvaccinated people, and 95.4% of lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths since January 2021 have been among the unvaccinated, she said.

“Our best defense against COVID-19 is to get the vaccine,” Corder said.

Roughly a year ago, Garrett County had just broken into the 60s for positive cases.

On Tuesday, the Garrett County Health Department had reported 76 new COVID-19 cases in the past 10 days, with total cumulative cases at 2,202.

“The only way we are going to be able to turn the trend around in Garrett County is for more people to get vaccinated,” Garrett County Health Officer Bob Stephens said via the release.

“The (Food and Drug Administration’s) authorization of the Pfizer vaccine should help reduce some of the hesitancy about getting vaccinated against COVID-19,” he said. “Over 24,000 pages of data was reviewed by the FDA prior to their approval.”

Vaccination is the “best defense against severe illness and death from COVID-19,” Stephens said.

“Although there have been breakthrough infections in vaccinated persons, these cases remain rare, and in most incidents, less severe,” he said.

Maryland’s first post-vaccination infection was identified Jan. 26, Stephens said.

“From then to mid-August, fewer than 0.21%, or just over 7,000 of the 3.3 million fully vaccinated Maryland residents later tested positive for COVID-19,” he said.

“Only 5.0%, or 627, of these people were hospitalized. Fully vaccinated people make up only 5.3% of all confirmed COVID-19 cases in Maryland since January 2021, and 71 deaths, representing 4.6% of lab-confirmed COVID-19 deaths in Maryland,” Stephens said.

The Allegany County Health Department on Monday reported 95 new COVID-19 cases since the agency last reported figures Friday.

The Maryland Department of Health Tuesday reported 847 new COVID-19 cases, eight additional deaths and 21 more hospitalizations across the state in the past 24 hours.

Vaccination rates, opportunities

Garrett County on Tuesday had Maryland’s lowest rate of fully vaccinated residents at 38.83%.

Allegany County was at 41.87%.

Each of those figures combined the portion of population that received a second-dose of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, with the number of folks that got the single Johnson & Johnson shot.

Statewide, 60.7% of all Marylanders were fully vaccinated Tuesday.

To schedule a COVID-19 vaccination in Garrett County, or to get more information, visit garretthealth.org or call 301-334-7698.

The Allegany County Health Department offers free COVID-19 vaccinations Wednesdays on the ground floor of the Willowbrook Office Complex, 12501 Willowbrook Road, Cumberland.

From 9 a.m. to noon, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines are offered for people age 18 and older.

From 1 to 4 p.m., the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is offered for people age 12 and older.

No appointments are needed, and anyone under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Hospitals’ capacity

The Cumberland Times-News asked hospital systems in Allegany and Garrett counties specific questions related to COVID-19, including numbers of occupied versus available beds and impacts on emergency departments.

UPMC Western Maryland did not directly answer the questions, and via statement said the hospital system does not have a shortage of beds and is not at capacity.

“Because of UPMC’s extensive planning and preparation, all our facilities are well-equipped and able to provide care to any patient with a medical need,” the statement read. “All UPMC facilities are open, operating normally and ready to provide care for all. As the COVID-19 virus continues to evolve, UPMC is committed to making vaccines accessible for all and encourages everyone who is eligible to receive their vaccine to do so.”

Kimi-Scott McGreevy, Garrett Regional Medical Center’s assistant vice president of marketing and development, said the hospital system had three COVID-19 patient admissions and 81% bed occupancy as of Tuesday morning.

“Our (emergency department) is open with normal operations and we do not have any alternative care sites open at this time,” she said via email.

Schools and closings

According to the Maryland Department of Health, a COVID-19 outbreak-associated case in schools would meet one or more of the following criteria:

• Classroom/cohort outbreak definition — At least two confirmed COVID-19 cases among students/teachers/staff within a 14-day period and who are epidemiologically linked, but not household contacts; or

• School-wide outbreak definition — Three or more classrooms or cohorts with cases from separate households that meet the classroom/cohort outbreak definition that occurs within 14 days; or 5% or more unrelated students/teachers/staff have confirmed COVID-19 within a 14 day period (minimum of 10 unrelated students/teachers/staff).

Maryland State Department of Education officials said a decision to close a school would be made on a case-by-case basis by the local school system and their health department.

Allegany County Public Schools open Wednesday, and Garrett County Public Schools students return Sept. 7.

Nursing homes list

Local nursing homes were again on MDH’s “Bottom 10” list for percentage of staff with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Cumberland Healthcare Center was second lowest at 45%, Dennett Road Manor in Oakland was at 49%, Sterling Care at Frostburg Village was at 53% and Allegany Health Nursing and Rehabilitation in Cumberland was at 56%.

Teresa McMinn is the Digital Editor for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.

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