Re­gions’ pos­i­tive test rates trou­bling

Wash­ing­ton and Bal­ti­more ar­eas lead in in­fec­tion statis­tic

Baltimore Sun - - NEWS - By Hal­lie Miller

Fed­eral of­fi­cials iden­ti­fied Bal­ti­more and Wash­ing­ton on Fri­day as lead­ing the nation’s metropoli­tan ar­eas with the high­est pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus test­ing rates, lead­ing all other ur­ban re­gions in the ra­tio of con­firmed cases to the num­ber of peo­ple swabbed.

The news fol­lowed the ad­di­tion of 893 new cases of COVID-19 to Maryland’s tally, push­ing the to­tal to 44,424 as the num­ber of peo­ple re­quir­ing hospi­tal care con­tin­ued to de­cline.

Dr. Deb­o­rah Birx, a mem­ber of the White House coro­n­avirus task force, said dur­ing a Fri­day news brief­ing that Mont­gomery and Prince Ge­orge’s coun­ties, as well as Wash­ing­ton and Northern Vir­ginia, have the high­est pos­i­tive coro­n­avirus test re­turn rate in the coun­try, fol­lowed by Bal­ti­more.

“These are places where we really have seen a stalling, or an in­crease in cases,” Birx said. “All the other met­ros are al­most ex­clu­sively be­low 10%. So we see this as great progress across the board.”

Pub­lic health of­fi­cials and the World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion are mon­i­tor­ing these rates, say­ing that com­mu­ni­ties with ex­ten­sive test­ing have pos­i­tive rates be­tween 3% and 12%. When pos­i­tive tests rates are higher than that, it means that likely only the sick­est pa­tients are be­ing tested and oth­ers who are in­fected aren’t be­ing iden­ti­fied.

Maryland’s over­all rate of pos­i­tive tests over the last week is just un­der 19%. Its pos­i­tive test rate ranked sec­ond worst out of 29 states and U.S. ter­ri­to­ries above WHO’s rec­om­mended 5% rate of pos­i­tive tests, ac­cord­ing to Johns Hop­kins re­searchers, be­hind only Puerto Rico.

Bal­ti­more Health Com­mis­sioner Leti­tia Dzi­rasa said Fri­day more wide­spread test­ing will help the city lower its pos­i­tiv­ity rate, which has hov­ered around 20%.

“Our goal is to ex­pand test­ing, but we’ll be look­ing at the pos­i­tiv­ity rate know­ing it’s a great in­di­ca­tor of just how wide­spread the preva­lence of COVID-19 is,” she said.

To fur­ther ex­pand the state’s test­ing ca­pac­ity, Gov. Larry Ho­gan’s of­fice an­nounced Fri­day that three ad­di­tional test­ing sites would open out­side Wal­mart stores in Cam­bridge, Fred­er­ick and Fruit­land. Peo­ple will ad­min­is­ter their own swabs at these lo­ca­tions, ac­cord­ing to a news re­lease. The sites which will be open three days a week.

“With the ad­di­tion of test sites at some of our Wal­mart stores, we are con­tin­u­ing to make significan­t progress on our long-term test­ing strat­egy for the state,” Ho­gan said in a state­ment.

The Repub­li­can gov­er­nor has said that ex­pand­ing the state’s test­ing ca­pac­ity proves vi­tal to Maryland’s abil­ity to re­open, as does pro­vid­ing more per­sonal pro­tec­tive gear, beef­ing up hospi­tal ca­pac­ity and ramp­ing up the state’s con­tact trac­ing op­er­a­tion.

The gov­er­nor also is­sued an ex­ec­u­tive or­der ear­lier this week al­low­ing the state’s 1,200 phar­ma­cies to con­duct tests.

On Fri­day, the num­ber of hos­pi­tal­iza­tions in Maryland due to coro­n­avirus reached their low­est point since April 19.

It was the sec­ond con­sec­u­tive day that hos­pi­tal­iza­tions were be­low 1,400, with 1,329 sick­ened peo­ple oc­cu­py­ing beds in the state, of­fi­cials re­ported. Ho­gan’s ad­min­is­tra­tion con­sid­ers the num­ber of hos­pi­tal­iza­tions the most im­por­tant met­ric to track in the state’s re­cov­ery.

The state also con­firmed 47 ad­di­tional deaths. The of­fi­cial death toll now stands at 2,092 Mary­lan­ders, which does not in­clude 115 pos­si­ble fa­tal­i­ties due to COVID-19 that have not been con­firmed by a lab­o­ra­tory test.

In all, the Maryland Depart­ment of Health re­ports more than 227,000 tests have been run, with 183,478 of them neg­a­tive.

The state’s pos­i­tive test­ing rate may start to come down since Ho­gan opened test­ing to those with­out symp­toms but who may have been ex­posed ear­lier this week.

Thurs­day was the first day peo­ple could seek such test with­out an ap­point­ment at the Maryland State Fair­grounds test­ing site in Ti­mo­nium, which reached ca­pac­ity in less than an hour.

The coro­n­avirus con­tin­ues to dis­pro­por­tion­ately in­fect peo­ple of color more than their white coun­ter­parts. Black, His­panic and Latino Mary­lan­ders make up over 23,000 of the state’s con­firmed cases, de­spite both groups be­ing mi­nori­ties in the over­all pop­u­la­tion. White peo­ple ac­count for nearly 8,900 of the re­ported cases.

Mean­while, adults older than 80 make up the ma­jor­ity of the state’s 2,092 deaths, with more than 950 fa­tal­i­ties. But peo­ple in be­tween 30 and 39 ac­count for more cases than any other age range, with 8,189.

Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties lead other ju­ris­dic­tions in the state in case counts, with 13,077 and 9,432 re­spec­tively. Bal­ti­more County and Bal­ti­more City rank third and fourth, with 5,170 and 4,492 cases.

The 10 ZIP codes with the high­est num­bers of cases re­side in Prince Ge­orge’s and Mont­gomery coun­ties, with the ex­cep­tion of 21224 in Bal­ti­more and Bal­ti­more County, which ranks sev­enth out of 10.

BAR­BARA HAD­DOCK TAYLOR/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

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