Erin McCreary

Erin McCreary, UPMC infectious diseases pharmacist and clinical assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Division of Infectious Diseases, speaks about a COVID-19 post-exposure treatment during a press conference Tuesday.

CUMBERLAND, Md. — The number of hospital beds occupied by a COVID-19 patient in Maryland has increased from 97 to 424 in the past 40 days.

Daily virus case rates in Allegany and Garrett counties exceeded the statewide average on Tuesday, while those jurisdictions also had some of Maryland’s lowest COVID-19 vaccination rates.

The Maryland Hospital Association in early June called for employees of its members, including UPMC Western Maryland and Garrett Regional Medical Center, to be vaccinated against COVID-19, yet neither local hospital, as of Tuesday, had a policy that requires workers to be vaccinated against the disease.

Meanwhile, some nursing homes in Allegany and Garrett counties for the third consecutive week were on the Maryland Department of Health’s “bottom 10” list for the percentage of staff with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

“Nursing facilities that are still well below the state’s percentage of (staffers) with at least one dose of a life-saving vaccine are putting their residents directly in the path of contracting and spreading COVID-19, hospitalization, and death,” Maryland Department of Aging Secretary Rona E. Kramer said via press release Monday.

What could change?

The U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said Sunday he is hopeful the Food and Drug Administration will give full approval to the coronavirus vaccine by month’s end and predicted the potential move will spur a wave of vaccine mandates in the private sector as well as schools and universities, The Associated Press reported.

The FDA has only granted emergency use approval of the Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, but the agency is expected to soon give full approval to Pfizer.

“I hope — I don’t predict — I hope that it will be within the next few weeks. I hope it’s within the month of August,” Fauci said of FDA approval of the vaccine, according to the AP. “If that’s the case, you’re going to see the empowerment of local enterprises, giving mandates that could be colleges, universities, places of business, a whole variety and I strongly support that. The time has come. ... We’ve got to go the extra step to get people vaccinated.”

In response to a Cumberland Times-News request for information, FDA officials on Monday said review of Pfizer’s biologics license application has been ongoing, “is among the highest priorities of the agency,” and the agency intends to complete the review “far in advance” of the goal date of January 2022.

Some mandatory vaccination policies might happen sooner.

Members of the U.S. military will be required to get the COVID-19 vaccine under a plan laid out by the Pentagon and endorsed by President Joe Biden.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin on Monday said he will seek to make the COVID-19 vaccine mandatory by mid-September or immediately upon the FDA’s full approval, whichever comes first.

“Austin’s decision reflects similar moves by governments and companies around the world, as nations struggle with the highly contagious delta variant that has sent new U.S. cases, hospitalizations and deaths surging to heights not seen since last winter,” the AP reported.

‘Post-exposure’ treatment

While doctors around the world say vaccination is the best way to stop the international public health emergency, treatment for some folks that have been exposed to COVID-19 will soon be available, UPMC officials said Tuesday.

“I want everybody who is eligible to get the vaccine to be vaccinated,” Graham Snyder, UPMC’s medical director of infection prevention and hospital epidemiology, said. “Vaccines matter. They are having an important impact already on the pandemic and the more of us that are vaccinated the greater that impact will be.”

The hospital system will soon offer “post-exposure prophylaxis” monoclonal antibody treatments in outpatient and inpatient settings for unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated people that were exposed to someone with COVID-19, and might be at risk for serious illness.

Fully vaccinated patients with immune systems that might not respond well to the COVID-19 vaccine, and have been exposed to the virus, could also qualify for the treatment.

Although UPMC has been using monoclonal antibodies to treat patients with COVID-19 since late last year, the Food and Drug Administration recently expanded its emergency use authorization for Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody to be given to patients that have been exposed to the virus and are at a high risk for developing COVID-19.

“We’ll be offering this across the UPMC enterprise to any patient ages 12 and up who would qualify,” Erin McCreary, UPMC infectious diseases pharmacist and clinical assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Division of Infectious Diseases, said.

Cases and vaccinations

The Maryland Department of Health Tuesday reported 629 new COVID-19 cases, seven more people died from the disease, and 24 additional hospital beds were occupied by a patient with the virus.

The daily case rate was 4.21% statewide, 4.81% in Allegany County, 5.43% in Garrett County and 5.67% in Washington County.

The seven-day moving average case rate per 100,000 people was 12.46 statewide, 15.01 in Allegany County, 9.36 in Garrett County and 13.05 in Washington County.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 78.6% of Marylanders age 18 and older had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.

In that category, vaccination rates in Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties were each roughly half of the state’s percentage.

Garrett County’s rate of 38.44% was the lowest in Maryland.

The Allegany County Health Department offers free COVID-19 vaccinations every Wednesday on the ground floor of the Willowbrook Office Complex, 12501 Willowbrook Road, from 9 a.m. to noon.

The Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines are offered for people age 18 and older.

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

No appointment is needed, and anyone younger that 18 years must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

For more information about COVID-19 vaccinations in Garrett County, call 301-334-7698.

Teresa McMinn is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371, tmcminn@times-news.com or on Twitter @teresamcminn1.

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