Maryland’s acting health secretary said the state will wait until after Friday to evaluate the impact of recent reopening decisions that lifted pandemic capacity limits on most businesses statewide, saying he wanted a full two weeks of data since the March 12 opening.
State analysts noted that Maryland’s test positivity rate has been climbing, and as of Monday was 30 percent higher than 2½ weeks earlier.
Gov. Larry Hogan (R) issued the order on March 9 to lift capacity restrictions on indoor and outdoor dining, fitness centers, religious institutions, casinos and other facilities.
In Baltimore County, which abided by most of the state’s new rules, daily case rates have been on a steady upward trend for two weeks; in Kent County, the daily case rate last week reached peak levels again.
Officials in Montgomery County, which opted for a slower reopening than the rest of the state, noted the trend Wednesday.
“From a strictly objective standpoint, if we look at the numbers, we’ve seen them increase since that decision . . . Our numbers have not made the same trajectory,” county Health Officer Travis Gayles said in a news conference. While the county’s case rate has not increased, it has not decreased either in the past two weeks.
Gayles said this is likely the result of ongoing travel between jurisdictions. “We’re not in a bubble,” he said, adding that while the county has tried to push for a “regional and state approach” to reopening, there are currently different rules on social and commercial activity between Montgomery and several of its close neighbors.
In a meeting with D.C. Council members Wednesday, health department leaders pledged to make more data on coronavirus vaccinations in the District available soon, and raised concerns that existing data might be inaccurate.
They also discussed plans to open new vaccination clinics, including the first three CVS stores administering vaccines in the District, but said that the city would not apply to host one of the “community vaccination centers” that the Federal Emergency Management Agency is building in other cities.
The three CVS stores — one in Ward 5 and two in Ward 7, according to the mayor’s office — mark the retail giant’s first entry into vaccination in the District outside of its pharmacists’ work to administer shots to nursing home residents this winter.
All three will make shots available to residents over age 65 as well as educators, child-care workers, and health-care workers, Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said. The appointments will be allocated through the city’s registration website, but the doses — 3,510 in the next 10 days — will come from a federal program that sends shots to pharmacies. Giant stores in D.C. are already enrolled in the program.
But Patrick Ashley, the health department’s emergency response director, said the District would not apply to participate in another federal program, the FEMA community vaccination center program.
“We’re opting into any partnership that gets us more doses. The FEMA partnership does not get us more doses,” he said. “We’ve got plenty of vaccinators that are ready and willing. We’ve got additional capacities in our current vaccination sites … We don’t need the help that they’re offering in the format that they’re offering.”
Contradicting Ashley’s assertion, FEMA says on its website that “vaccines for these centers are provided to the states above and beyond the regular allocations.”
Several legislators raised an ongoing concern — the city’s rank near last place in the country on national trackers of doses used and percent of residents inoculated. D.C. health department leaders have alleged that these trackers portray D.C. in a misleadingly bad light, because the trackers include a large number of doses sent to federal agencies (and not necessarily used promptly) in their tally of D.C.’s vaccines.
At Wednesday’s meeting, vaccine program head Ankoor Shah said that he had met with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the subject.
The CDC’s tracker currently reports that 462,615 doses have been delivered to the District; as of last week, Shah said D.C. had only ordered 265,160 of those.
Shah said CDC leaders showed him their count of how many doses have been sent to the federal agencies in the District (data which the agencies generally do not make public) — and that the tally came to about 40,000 doses fewer than the number the CDC tracker claims have been sent to the city.
“They’re actively working to figure out where those 40,000 doses are. That’s 40,000 doses that could just be sitting in the denominator without a numerator,” Shah said.
If Shah is correct and D.C.’s cumulative total in the tracker dropped to about 422,000, it would improve the city’s percentage of doses used (across local and federal agencies) from 68 percent — currently worse than all but three states — to 74 percent, which would mean leapfrogging over another 10 states in the national rankings, according to Bloomberg data.
Shah also said the city has not yet decided whether to make older adults who are not currently eligible for vaccines — perhaps those over 55 — eligible for the vaccine before the general public becomes eligible in the District on May 1. He said the health department is examining data on who is currently signing up for shots to determine the feasibility of such a plan.
And Ashley noted that anyone who has registered with the city but then received a vaccine elsewhere can remove themselves from the database by calling the city’s vaccine hotline or emailing email@example.com.
Most of Virginia is vaccinating people in the 1B category — including anyone age 65 or older, people 16 to 64 with underlying medical conditions and front line essential workers, such as teachers and grocery store workers.
Four health districts covering 17 localities have expanded eligibility to 1C essential workers, such as people who work in waste removal, food service, construction, legal services and hair salons.
They include Northern Virginia exurbs, including Fauquier, Culpeper, Clarke, Frederick, Shenandoah counties and the city of Winchester. Four localities in Southside, including the city of Danville, and the two Eastern Shore counties — Accomack and Northampton — have also expanded to 1C.
Local public health officials in consultation with the Virginia Department of Health determined enough 1A- and 1B-eligible people received vaccines or have appointments to expand to 1C.
On Wednesday, Virginia reported 1,470 new coronavirus cases and six deaths, Maryland reported 1,173 new cases and 19 deaths, and the District reported 107 new cases and two deaths.
Erin Cox contributed to this report.
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