CUMBERLAND — As the COVID-19 delta variant invades Maryland counties, including Allegany and Garrett, state health officials believe convenience and education will motivate more folks to get vaccinated against the virus.
Although more than 76% of Maryland adults have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccination, that rate is roughly half in each of the state’s three most western counties.
“We have to continue to make the vaccine accessible,” Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader told the Cumberland Times-News Monday.
Last month, 100% of COVID-19 deaths, 95% of new cases and 93% of hospitalizations were in people that had not been vaccinated against the virus.
As the delta variant becomes more prominent across the country, the disease especially threatens unvaccinated folks.
“My biggest concern is that they are at serious risk for getting COVID,” Schrader said.
So far, there are roughly 90 cases of the delta strain in Maryland.
“We expect over the next couple of months, because it’s … twice as infectious as the alpha variant, that it will start to spread among the unvaccinated, and then that in and of itself could create new (COVID-19) strains,” he said. “So we’re monitoring that very closely.”
Maryland’s health department is working with Johns Hopkins University, the University of Maryland and the state’s lab to track COVID-19 variants.
“Our understanding at the moment is that both the Pfizer and Moderna two-shot regimen is still very effective in combatting the variants that we’ve seen so far,” he said. “The key is to get as many people vaccinated as possible.”
The state is offering mobile COVID-19 vaccination clinics that can be requested by groups including non-profits via an online form at https://governor.maryland.gov/govaxmobile/.
“We’ll come and help,” Schrader said.
COVID-19 and kids, workplaces
Mississippi health officials last week said several children with COVID-19 were being treated in intensive care units, and some of them required ventilators.
While vaccinations are not available for children younger than age 12, Maryland health officials are examining data that pertains to COVID-19 cases in young kids.
“We are actually doing a survey now,” Schrader said. “We monitor all the new (COVID-19) cases by age, but we’re doing a deeper dive.”
Meanwhile, as many companies across the country reopen, they also ponder whether to require employees to be vaccinated against COVID-19.
“We are encouraging businesses to use the authority that they already have,” Schrader said.
Local COVID-19 vaccination information
The Maryland Department of Health on Tuesday reported 155 new COVID-19 cases, four additional deaths and one more hospitalization across the state in the past 24 hours.
The Allegany County Health Department continues to urge residents to get a COVID-19 vaccination as soon as possible.
ACHD will offer walk-in COVID-19 vaccinations on the ground floor of the Willowbrook Office Complex, 12501 Willowbrook Road, from 9 a.m. to noon Wednesday.
At that time, the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines will be offered for people age 18 and older.
Following that clinic from 1 to 4 p.m. Wednesday, the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine will be available for people age 12 and older.
“Anyone under 18 years of age must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian in order to be vaccinated,” ACHD said via press release Monday.
“There really is no time to lose in order to prevent illness and death due to COVID-19,” ACHD spokesperson Brenda Caldwell said via the release. “These vaccines are safe and effective, and studies show that unvaccinated individuals are at significantly higher risk for life-threatening health complications from COVID-19.”
Delta variant in Garrett County
The COVID-19 delta variant is now in Garrett County, health officials confirmed Tuesday.
The Maryland Public Health Laboratory conducts RNA sequencing on COVID-19 case specimens from across the state, and the delta variant was found in a Garrett County specimen, Garrett County Health Department Public Information Officer Diane Lee said via press release Tuesday.
The delta variant was identified in Allegany County last week.
The World Health Organization and CDC have labeled the delta variant of COVID-19 as a variant of concern because it is spreading much more quickly and easily than other variants of the disease.
“The CDC reports that the delta variant has been found to be particularly dangerous to those who are unvaccinated or partially vaccinated against COVID-19, and preliminary data indicates that it may increase the risk of hospitalization,” the release stated. “Fortunately, studies show that all three available vaccines — Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson — do provide protection against the delta variant and help to prevent hospitalizations and deaths.”
Vaccination rates for Garrett County residents are 46.1% for those age 12 and older, and 74.3% for folks age 65 and older.
“It is now more important than ever that everyone who is eligible for the vaccine gets it,” Garrett County Health Officer Bob Stephens said via the release.
GCHD has weekly clinics scheduled at its offices through the summer, with Moderna, Johnson & Johnson, and Pfizer vaccines available at the following locations:
• 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesdays at 1025 Memorial Drive in Oakland.
• 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. Fridays at 28 Hershberger Lane in Grantsville.
Scheduling links through July are available at garretthealth.org. August links will soon be available. Appointments are preferred, but walk-ins are also welcome.
GCHD refers folks who have questions about the COVID-19 vaccine to contact their primary care provider or the COVID-19 Hotline at 301-334-7698.
COVID-19 funding for schools
The Maryland health and education departments Tuesday announced a request for applications from K-12 public and non-public schools across the state to receive funding to facilitate COVID-19 screening testing programs for the 2021-2022 school year.
The funding has been made available through the CDC, which recommends a robust, school-based screening testing program.
“Testing for COVID-19 remains a key component in our fight against this disease and it is essential that our schools have access to the resources needed and are prepared to keep our children safe,” said Schrader said via press release Tuesday.
“We strongly encourage K-12 schools to request these funds and put in place a robust testing program to protect students, teachers and staff during this upcoming school year,” he said.
“At the Maryland State Department of Education, we are encouraging local school systems to partner with the Maryland Department of Health in this important Covid-19 screening initiative to ensure school communities remain safe as we return to full-time in-person learning,” Maryland State Superintendent of Schools Mohammed Choudhury said via the release.
“This new funding, along with federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds, will help schools address the necessary learning and public health strategies needed to continue to emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic,” he said.
Interested schools may apply online via the eMaryland Marketplace. Applications will be accepted through Aug. 9. The funding period is from Aug. 15, 2021, through June 30, 2022.
MDH will provide technical assistance to schools throughout the process.
“Schools can elect to seek reimbursement of an independently provided full-service screening testing program or work with a state contracted lab services vendor,” the release stated.
Questions about the program should be emailed to MDH.K12Testing@maryland.gov.