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CUMBERLAND — It’s been a real challenge for folks to get a “simple, straight answer” regarding questions surrounding COVID-19 vaccinations, U.S. Rep. David Trone said Tuesday.

To gain insight into the situation, the congressman hosted a webinar with health officials from the five counties in Maryland’s sixth district, which he represents.

“We want to try and help you understand the process,” Trone said. “It’s been very confusing for my family as we’ve tried to navigate it also.”

There are two knowns in a sea of questions, however.

“First of all there simply are not enough vaccines today,” he said and added that President Joe Biden’s recent purchase of 200 million vaccines will help. “The second thing we know is the rollout has been very, very ineffective. Let’s call it a disaster.”

Moderna and Pfizer each produce roughly 5.5 million COVID-19 vaccines weekly, Trone said.

Johnson & Johnson’s new COVID-19 vaccine is expected to receive final approval next week and be available in early March, he said.

AstraZeneca has not received an approval date for its single-dose vaccine, he said.

“We’ve been working with state and local officials to help speed up the distribution process,” Trone said and added that Gov. Larry Hogan has been “very responsive.”

Trone said he expects Congress will pass Biden’s $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Friday or Saturday.

“I’m excited to vote ‘yes,’” he said. “It is very very needed.”

Health officials give updates

Allegany County Health Officer Jenelle Mayer talked of the COVID-19 Interest Form her organization recently launched online.

Information from the form, including age and occupation, determines how the Allegany County Health Department contacts people to register for clinics, she said.

“We’re working together with UPMC Western Maryland … and we share the data from the interest list so there’s one place for people to go if they are interested in being vaccinated,” Mayer said. “Whether UPMC is doing a clinic or the health department is doing a clinic, we are pulling from that same database.”

ACHD is also partnered with area senior centers, she said.

Garrett County Health Officer Bob Stephens said the health department works with Garrett Regional Medical Center to help people that have an impaired immune system get a COVID-19 vaccination.

“We have heard that there is (a) mass vaccination site being planned for Hagerstown,” Washington County Health Officer Earl Stoner said but added he believes it is still in the planning stages.

Frederick County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer reminded people to “wear face coverings, be mindful of the physical distancing … even after people are fully vaccinated,” which takes two weeks after the second dose has been given.

Dr. Travis Gayles, Montgomery County Health Officer and Chief of Public Health Services, said the state should be more transparent about equity factors that determine allocation of COVID-19 vaccine doses to local jurisdictions and retail vendors.

“We want to make sure again that there’s fair, equitable access across the board,” he said.

The panel agreed that mass vaccination sites draw vaccines from local distribution areas.

“It’s a bit of a mystery why we’re not just pushing (vaccines) to the local areas; one, even, fairly done distribution based on population,” Trone said. “Local health centers can clearly do this.”

Trone talked of West Virginia’s efficient vaccination process.

“Everything is centralized (and) it’s a very fair and equitable system,” he said.

Learn more at trone.house.gov or call 301-926-0300.

State and local numbers

The Maryland Department of Health on Tuesday reported 662 new COVID-19 cases, 30 additional deaths and 14 fewer hospitalizations across the state in the past 24 hours.

The daily positivity case rate was 3.9% statewide, with Allegany County at 1.98%, Garrett County at 1.97% and Washington County at 5.23%.

The seven-day moving average case rate per 100,000 people was 12.78 statewide, with Allegany County at 5.48, Garrett County at 2.46 and Washington County at 15.51.

The Allegany County Health Department on Monday reported that 9,293 Allegany County residents, which is 13.2% of the county’s population, have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, and 5,061 residents, or 7.2%, have received both doses.

ACHD also reported 11 new COVID-19 cases, bringing the county’s cumulative case count to 6,393.

“One additional death was recorded, bringing the cumulative number of COVID fatalities to 197 for Allegany County,” ACHD said via press release.

The Garrett County Health Department on Tuesday said that enough COVID-19 vaccine doses were received on Monday to fulfill all vaccination appointments scheduled through March 5.

“No additional vaccination clinics will be rescheduled during that time,” GCHD said via press release.

Roughly 16.3% of Garrett residents received a first dose of the vaccine, and 6.97% received both of the required doses.

“In comparison, the state rates are 12.36% for the first dose and 6.05% for second,” the release stated.

Although recent vaccine deliveries were delayed, Garrett County is “back on track to vaccinate those people who have appointments scheduled for both this week and next,” Stephens said via the release. “Since we needed to move some appointments into the upcoming weeks, when appointment links are opened in the next week or so, the available appointments will be clinics in mid-March and beyond.”

COVID-19 testing through the GCHD continues at the Oakland office Monday through Friday for people with symptoms and an appointment, and at the MEDCO Building in the McHenry Business Park Tuesdays and Thursdays for people with or without symptoms on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pre-registration at MEDCO is recommended. Visit garretthealth.org for details.

“Sadly, the health department has been notified of additional deaths due to COVID-19 complications this week, bringing the total county deaths to 60 persons,” the release stated.

The age range for COVID-19-related deaths in Garrett County is from 18 to 102, with the average age being 81.

New face covering order

Hogan on Tuesday issued an executive order to clarify that face coverings are required for anyone over age 5 in any area of a school setting where interaction with others is likely, including classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, auditoriums and gymnasiums.

He also said mass COVID-19 vaccination sites will be on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland in the coming weeks.

And, Hogan warned Marylanders of fraud related to COVID-19 vaccines, and reiterated that no one can charge for a vaccine or vaccination. Marylanders who suspect fraudulent activity are urged to notify law enforcement immediately.

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