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CUMBERLAND, Md. — As regional COVID-19 case rates remain high and vaccination rates low, the heads of the three hospitals in Allegany, Garrett and Mineral counties made a joint plea Thursday imploring residents to get their shots.

The area served by UPMC Western Maryland President Michele Martz and Mark Boucot, the president and CEO of Garrett Regional Medical Center and Potomac Valley Hospital in Keyser, West Virginia, have experienced rapidly-rising case loads since late July, but vaccination rates have not increased in tandem.

In a statement, Martz said getting vaccinated is a matter of protecting the community as a whole.

“Vaccines are one of the strongest tools we have to change the pandemic,” Martz said. “Vaccines offer excellent protection against serious illness. You aren’t just getting the vaccine for yourself; you are doing it for those around you — your parents, your children, your neighbors, your coworkers and the doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists and all the other health care heroes who continue to work countless hours to save lives.”

“We are trying to keep our community as safe as possible,” Boucot said, adding that the vaccine “can mean the difference between life and death.

“The CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) statistics regarding COVID’s impact demonstrate that people who are not vaccinated are 10 times more likely to be hospitalized with the virus, and 11 times more likely to die, than people who choose to be vaccinated,” Boucot said. “Those statistics should make everyone stop and think. This virus doesn’t discriminate, it doesn’t care who you are or where you live. If the opportunity presents itself, the virus will infect you.”

Allegany and Garrett counties on Thursday both led the state in percent positivity and seven-day average case rate.

Compared to the statewide average of 17.07 cases per 100,000 population, Allegany County reported 52.54 and Garrett 62.53. While the daily positivity percentage statewide was 3.03%, Garrett’s was 15.15% and Allegany 11.49%. In both categories, the two Western Maryland counties were the worst in the state.

Allegany County has seen at least 9,451 cases and 241 deaths; Garrett County has had at least 2,940 cases and 76 deaths.

About 45.7% of Allegany County residents have been vaccinated against the coronavirus, while in Garrett County about 41% have been vaccinated.

Garrett Regional Medical Center reported eight COVID-19 hospitalizations Thursday afternoon. UPMC Western Maryland officials said by email that 110 patients are hospitalized for COVID-19 “in the Altoona region and Maryland,” but declined to provide specific figures for the Cumberland hospital.

Two more Mineral deaths

Mineral County health officials reported the deaths of a 51-year-old man and a 48-year-old woman from COVID-19, raising the county’s death toll to 108.

The county had 186 active cases as of Thursday morning, and has had more than 4,430 cases since the start of the pandemic. Slightly fewer than 37% of Mineral County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19. Of 53 deaths since December, three were vaccinated, and of 2,569 infection cases in that time, 134 have been in vaccinated individuals.

Potomac Valley officials said by email Thursday the hospital had 10 COVID-19 hospitalizations and 95% of hospital staff are vaccinated.

Lindsay Renner-Wood is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayRenWood, email lrenner-wood@times-news.com or call 304-639-4403.

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Lindsay Renner-Wood is a reporter for the Cumberland Times-News, covering West Virginia and more. Follow her on Twitter @LindsayRenWood, email lrenner-wood@times-news.com or call 304-639-4403.