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CUMBERLAND, Md. — Allegany County Health Department officials Friday said “vaccination refusal” is a key factor driving the high rate of COVID-19 infection in Western Maryland.

The Maryland Department of Health on Friday reported 1,363 new COVID-19 cases, 14 additional deaths and 20 fewer hospitalizations across the state in the past 24 hours.

The seven-day moving average COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people was 19.7 statewide, 71.41 in Allegany County, 62.04 in Garrett County and 50.22 in Washington County.

The daily COVID-19 case rate was 4.28% statewide, 11.85% in Allegany County, 16.55% in Garrett County and 9.27% in Washington County.

Also Friday, ACHD reported 100 new cases of the virus with one additional death.

“Allegany County’s COVID-19 case rate has remained the highest in Maryland for eight consecutive days, with Garrett and Washington Counties also among the jurisdictions with the highest COVID case rates in the state,” ACHD said via press release.

“If anyone doubts that vaccination rates directly impact and improve infection rates for COVID-19, just look at the numbers,” the release stated. “Jurisdictions that are experiencing lower case rates are those with a larger portion of their population fully vaccinated.”

School system cases

For the week of Sept. 17 to 23, Mountain Ridge High School and the Center for Career and Technical Education met the MDH definition of a school-wide COVID-19 outbreak.

“These two schools, along with Fort Hill High School, remain on the MDH list of schools with school wide outbreaks,” Allegany County Public Schools said via press release Friday.

Braddock Middle, Allegany High, and Beall Elementary schools “met the definition of a classroom/cohort outbreak due to two or more individuals … testing positive for COVID-19,” the release stated.

“ACPS had six staff members and 66 students reported as positive for COVID-19 during this time,” it stated. “All positive individuals complete a 10-day isolation period.”

Additionally, six staff members and 218 students were identified as a close contact to a person who tested positive for COVID-19.

“Those who are close contacts complete a quarantine period of 10-20 days, depending on their individual circumstances,” the release stated.

Nursing home lists

Local nursing homes were again on MDH’s “top 10 and bottom 10 skilled nursing facilities” for percentage of staff with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Allegany Health Nursing and Rehab made the “top 10” with 93% of staffers vaccinated.

The “bottom 10” list included Cumberland Healthcare Center at 50%, and Dennett Road Manor in Garrett County, and Sterling Care at Frostburg Village, each at 53%.

“Despite knowing how susceptible our vulnerable seniors are to contracting COVID-19 or a variant and the possibility of hospitalization and death, many nursing facilities are still not complying with measures put in place to keep people safe,” Maryland Department of Aging Secretary Rona E. Kramer said via press release. “They are leaving the state with no choice but to explore and implement additional enforcement measures.”

Vaccinations and testing

Free COVID-19 vaccines are readily available at local pharmacies, urgent care clinics, pediatric offices, and some primary care providers.

ACHD will hold its next COVID-19 vaccination clinic September 29 at 12501 Willowbrook Road in Cumberland.

Vaccinations are free and no appointment is needed.

From 9 a.m. to noon, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-29 vaccines are offered.

From 1 to 5:30 p.m., the Pfizer vaccine is offered for people age 12 and older.

Anyone younger than 18 years must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

“As of September 23, 44.3% of Allegany County residents were fully vaccinated against COVID-19, compared to 63.9% of all Marylanders,” ACHD stated.

Drive-thru COVID-19 testing is offered three days per week at the Allegany County Fairgrounds on Moss Avenue.

Testing clinics are held from 2 to 7 p.m. Mondays, and from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesdays and Fridays.

No appointment is needed, but pre-registration is encouraged to lessen wait times.

Pre-register for testing at health.maryland.gov/allegany by clicking the pre-registration link under “COVID-19 Information” on the right side of the page.

To learn more about vaccinations and testing in Garrett County, call 301-334-7698 or visit garretthealth.org.

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

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