Baltimore officials said they are worried about a “deeply concerning” spike in new coronavirus infections and deaths in the city, which have been steadily rising for several weeks.
Baltimore Mayor Brandon Scott (D) and Health Commissioner Letitia Dzirasa issued a joint statement Thursday calling the increase of cases and deaths “deeply concerning, particularly among residents under 70.”
They pointed to more contagious variants, increased movement among the public “approaching pre-pandemic times,” and less vigilance with social distancing and mask-wearing as contributing to the rise in cases.
“With a Covid-19 positivity rate above five percent, we have reached widespread community transmission, and are currently unable to pinpoint a specific driver for the rapid rise in cases,” the joint statement says.
The city’s daily positivity rate is 6.26 percent, which is higher than the state average of 5.67, but lower than Somerset County, which has the state’s highest rate at 11.15. By comparison with elsewhere in the capital region, Montgomery is at 3.11 and Prince George’s is at 6.32.
Baltimore is one of Maryland’s hot spots, with a seven-day average of new cases of 244, or nearly 41 cases per 100,000 residents.
Baltimore has also experienced an increase in the number of hospitalizations. In the past two weeks, the seven-day-average hospitalization figure has jumped from 331.1 to 403.6, according to local health department data.
Since March 12, hospitalizations in Maryland have climbed from 765 patients to 1,232 on Friday. The state reported 16 deaths from the novel coronavirus on Friday.
In the District, the seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 residents was 16, the same as it was one month ago, data show. The District reported 134 new cases on Friday and three new deaths.
The seven-day average of new cases per 100,000 in Virginia on Friday was about 18, slightly higher than the 15 the state reported one month ago. The state added 1,594 new cases and 20 new deaths Friday, data show.
The first cases of the coronavirus variant P.1, which was first identified in Brazil, were found in Virginia, state health officials said Friday. The variant was found in samples from two Virginia residents, one of whom traveled within the United States before the onset of illness. The residents are from the northwest and eastern regions of the state, officials said.
The variant, which has been detected in at least 20 states as well as Maryland and the District, is associated with increased transmission, but not more severe disease.
Meanwhile, Virginia health officials are preparing for a new federally funded mass vaccination center to open Tuesday in a former Lord & Taylor department store in Fairfax County, with the capacity to deliver at least 3,000 shots daily.
The clinic is intended to help meet the high demand for vaccinations in Northern Virginia, which will join the rest of the state in moving to Phase 2 on Sunday when all residents 16 and older should be able to schedule vaccine appointments.
The Tysons Corner site, which will be open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday, will join other community vaccination centers that Virginia has opened with funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
The new site will initially administer first doses to people in Phase 1 — those 65 or older, people with underlying medical conditions and all essential workers — and transition to all adults.
In a statement, Fairfax County board chair Jeff C. McKay (D-At Large) said the site “will greatly impact Fairfax’s vaccination rates and move us closer to herd immunity.” As of Friday, more than 441,300 people have received at least one dose of vaccine in the Fairfax County area, state data shows.
The county’s waitlist for vaccine appointments, once greater than 100,000 people, is down to 22,617, county officials said.
Officials chose to place the newest site in Fairfax to help meet the high demand for vaccine doses in Northern Virginia where Fairfax, Prince William and Arlington counties are still in Phase 1c. Most of the rest of the state has already moved to Phase 2, which includes everyone over 16.
The statewide shift to Phase 2 does not necessarily mean residents will be able to schedule an appointment immediately, especially in high-demand areas, but the limitations on who can preregister will be lifted.
As of Friday, roughly half of the adults in the state — 3.3 million people — have received at least one dose, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) said.
Northam has said everyone who wants one should be able to have their first dose in the two-dose Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna regimens by the end of May.
The effort may be complicated by the pause this week on the administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, while the Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention review what they called “extremely rare” but serious potential side effects.
The White House promised Virginia an additional 15,000 doses of other coronavirus vaccines to make up for the Johnson & Johnson shots shelved this week.
Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.