In Maryland, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said Thursday the state next week will begin offering shots to people 75 or older, as well as teachers and child-care providers. The priority group also includes those in assisted-living facilities and incarcerated people at high risk of developing complications from covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Hospitals, health departments and others who have finished inoculating people in the first priority group can move to the second, he said.
Hogan called vaccinations the most important step residents can take to end the pandemic, saying they are crucial before people can “throw away the d--- masks.”
“This is going to take a long time, a great deal of patience and a lot more vaccines,” Hogan said.
The governor announced that county leaders can decide how quickly to move into the next vaccination phase, provided their plans continue to prioritize elderly and other vulnerable populations.
Several of Maryland’s largest counties were ready and waiting for clearance — and additional doses — so they can move on.
“We have a plan, and we are ready to execute it as soon as we have vaccine,” Frederick County Executive Jan H. Gardner (D) said in a statement before Hogan’s announcement. She said seven vaccination clinics are ready to open Monday.
In Virginia, expanded guidelines also include those who are younger and have medical conditions that would put them at high risk if they developed covid-19. The expansion applies to areas of the state that have been most efficient in inoculating early priority groups.
Northam made the announcement Thursday while also encouraging public school systems to resume in-person instruction when possible. His office said six months of data from schools around the state — coupled with a better understanding of how the virus spreads — suggests school systems can reopen with appropriate safety protocols.
While the new state guidance offers a five-step program for helping school systems to reopen, the decision, timeline and scope of reopening will be left to each school division.
Northam said after the school guidance is out, “our emphasis will change. Instead of schools should be closed, we’re going to approach it from the starting point of schools need to be open and here are the ways to do that safely.”
The announcements in Virginia and Maryland signaled progress on the rate of vaccine administration in the Washington region after initial stumbling blocks. But officials continue to face criticism for not getting shots into arms quickly enough once vaccines are distributed.
Northam’s office said the state has distributed all vaccine doses it has received from the federal government to 160 sites. The state has come under scrutiny because only about 26 percent of the more than 943,000 vaccine doses it has received have been administered. State health officials have said glitches with a new computer system also have obscured the number of doses delivered.
“Sometimes people think they’re just sitting on shelves, but they’ve all been distributed out,” Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said Thursday.
She said Northam spoke with hospital administrators and district health officials Thursday, telling them he expects the entire state to have completed the first tier of priority recipients — known as 1A — by the end of January, then move to the 1B list. But those parts of the state delivering vaccinations more quickly already can move to the 1B priority list.
Residents were urged to contact their local health department to learn whether they qualify.
Expanding the priority lists depends on an increase in vaccine deliveries from the federal government, Yarmosky cautioned. Virginia is receiving just more than 100,000 doses per week, a target of administering 14,000 vaccines daily. The current seven-day average for vaccines in Virginia is just under 12,000.
Expanding to people 65 and older adds another 2 million people to the population of priority recipients, which stretches beyond the current level supplied to the state, Yarmosky said.
She said Northam has been in contact with the outgoing Trump administration and the incoming Biden administration about increasing the amount being delivered.
“The supply is not where we need it to be right now,” she said.
Maryland is facing similar problems. State officials have cautioned that the current rate of vaccination — roughly 15,000 people daily — exceeds how quickly the federal government sends new doses, which are arriving at about 10,000 per day.
As of Thursday, 99.6 percent of vaccines allocated to Maryland had been delivered to organizations inoculating residents, state data shows. But just 37 percent of the 547,300 delivered doses have been injected into arms. Maryland hospitals, local health departments, pharmacies and other providers have administered 45 percent of the 409,075 first doses they received from the state and 11.5 percent of the 138,335 second doses they have on hand.
Hogan said not everybody in the priority group is accepting the vaccine, which has been “a huge concern.”
The governor also set a Jan. 25 target to begin the next phase, known as 1C, which also includes essential workers such as Postal Service employees and grocery store workers. That week, the state will launch a pilot program offering vaccinations at 22 Giant grocery stores across the state and 10 Walmarts on the Eastern Shore and in Western Maryland.
Maryland county officials said Thursday they were ready to forge ahead while questioning whether the state was maximizing the allocation of its vaccination resources.
Citing concerning metrics in the county, Prince George’s County Executive Angela D. Alsobrooks (D) said Thursday that existing coronavirus restrictions, including a ban on indoor dining, will be extended through at least Jan. 29. The measures had been set to expire Saturday.
Outdoor dining will still be allowed at 50 percent, while casino capacity will stay at 25 percent.
In neighboring Montgomery County, officials pleaded with state officials to increase their vaccine distribution. The county requested between 12,000 and 15,000 doses last week but received 6,800 on Tuesday, less than the 8,600 received a week earlier.
Earl Stoddard, the county’s head of emergency management — who said he was “astonished” by the allocation — urged state officials to give the county of 1 million residents more doses.
“We have more capacity,” he said.
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) said local officials do not know whether the state provided fewer doses because it received limited supplies from the federal government or whether the state was withholding doses for other localities or groups.
“I’m begging for some transparency,” Elrich said. “The frustration that I and other county executives have is that we’re playing in the dark.”
Anne Arundel County Executive Stueart Pittman (D) said his county on Monday will begin inoculating those at least 75 years old, as well as child-care providers, teachers and congregate living facility staff and residents.
“It’s time for us to move to Phase 1B and start vaccinating our most vulnerable,” he said. “And we are ready.”
State data shows some organizations have been more successful than others in getting people inoculated. For example, the state’s 56 hospitals have administered about 52 percent of the first doses of the vaccines they have received, local health departments have administered nearly 42 percent of initial doses, and CVS and Walgreens pharmacies have given out about 29 percent.
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore) lashed out at the Hogan administration Thursday for the pace in which people are getting vaccines.
“Exactly one month into our vaccination efforts, it is clear, we are not moving fast enough for Maryland’s families and businesses,” Jones tweeted. “The Governor needs to tell the people today what resources he’s putting in place to get Maryland vaccinated. We can’t keep waiting.”
Meanwhile, Maryland’s hospitals are nearing capacity. As of Thursday, 91 percent of the state’s intensive care beds and 88 percent of its acute care beds were full, according to state data. ICU wards were full at 14 of Maryland’s 35 hospitals and emergency care sites, with capacity at 95 percent or more at an additional five facilities.
The greater Washington region on Thursday recorded 8,462 new coronavirus infections and 130 deaths. Virginia reported 5,294 new cases and 74 deaths, Maryland had 2,948 cases and 45 deaths, while D.C. had 220 cases and 11 deaths.
The daily death toll in D.C. was the highest since the earliest weeks of the pandemic, with victims ranging from 42 to 108 years old. The seven-day average number of daily deaths across the greater Washington region rose to 94, the most since May 8.
Rebecca Tan and Rachel Chason contributed to this report.