Baltimore Sun

COVID-19 cases in Maryland are high again, but risks are not

- By Meredith Cohn

COVID-19 cases began rising again around Maryland last month and have exceeded 1,000 each day for the past two weeks. There were 1,330 reported Wednesday, the most since early February, when the state was coming off the massive omicron surge.

That’s enough to push the percentage of tests coming back positive in the state above 5%, a threshold that public health experts say indicates infections are widespread.

There are also likely far more cases going unreported because more people are testing at home or are not testing at all.

Still, the rise in cases has not triggered any new official protective measures, or seemingly, alarm.

That’s because the rise in infections hasn’t yet translated into a deluge of severe cases. Hospitaliz­ations remain relatively low in Maryland with 219 in acute care or ICU beds reported Wednesday, a fraction of the 3,452 reported during the pandemic peak in January.

“Hospitaliz­ations are indeed rising,” said Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Associatio­n. “But COVID patients represent just 3.3% of all patients in our hospitals, one of the lowest percentage­s since we began tracking in April 2020.”

Those low hospitaliz­ations now factor heavily into the warnings issued by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s a switch from earlier calculatio­ns that were heavily weighted by the number and spread of cases.

The CDC considers risk to be low around Maryland and most of the country, with high risks centered largely in the Northeast.

Chase Cook, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, said state officials are monitoring the situation and said the vaccines remain a key precaution.

“We encourage every eligible Marylander to get vaccinated and boosted as the best defense against COVID-19,” he said.

Vaccinatio­ns and booster shots are available to everyone over the age of 5 and officials say they are working to protect most people from getting really sick, though threats remain for those who are older and with certain underlying health conditions, especially if they are unvaccinat­ed. Regulators are currently evaluating vaccines for younger children and could authorize their use as soon as June.

Nearly 76% of the state’s population is fully vaccinated, according to the CDC.

However, the pandemic still remains a concern among health officials.

Under the previous calculatio­ns used by the CDC, 17 counties and Baltimore City have high or substantia­l COVID-19 transmissi­on.

An order by the CDC to wear masks on public transporta­tion was halted by a federal judge last month, but the agency still recommends people wear good face masks, especially for those who are at higher risk or unvaccinat­ed.

The state health department continues to offer free masks at certain locations and promote testing, vaccinatio­ns, booster shots and, now, a test-to-treat program that allows people to receive the anti-viral Paxlovid after an evaluation. Atlast also said people should be fully vaccinated and boosted and wear masks in close proximity to others.

He added: “Get tested after suspected exposure or any time you feel symptoms. If you test positive and your health care profession­al recommends it, get one of the medication­s that can control the illness and prevent hospitaliz­ation.”

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