In Virginia, meanwhile, the first case of a virus variant first identified in South Africa was detected, in a central Virginia resident with no history of travel while exposed to the virus, the Virginia Health Department said. The variant, B.1.351, has been detected in 20 states and territories, including Maryland and the District, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Infection rates in Virginia, Maryland and D.C. have leveled off after a post-holiday surge but are still slightly higher than they were in the summer and fall. Experts say mask-wearing, physical distancing and frequent hand-washing remain critical, especially as the virus mutates, creating variants that may spread more easily than the base strain.
On Monday, the region reported 1,768 new infections: 892 in Virginia, 716 in Maryland and 160 in D.C. The reported death toll climbed to 18,681, with 87 new deaths in Virginia, eight in Maryland and five in the District.
D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) said the city’s revamped portal for vaccine appointments will launch Wednesday. It will ask eligible residents to register once and then await an email with a link they can use to make an appointment.
Bowser said the portal should run more smoothly than the first-come, first-serve system that crashed repeatedly as tens of thousands of people competed for a few thousand appointments two mornings a week. The city’s vaccine allotment is also increasing.
The mayor stressed that those who register first Wednesday will not have an advantage over others who register later. Once registrants are chosen to get a vaccine, they will be notified through a call, a text or an email and will need to book their appointment within 48 hours — or wait until they are selected again.
The first invitations to make an appointment through the new system will go out Friday, Bowser said. Going forward, invitations will be sent out at 10 a.m. Thursdays and Sundays. Eligible individuals may also register over the phone.
“One thing I know is that if we find something that doesn’t work exactly right, we’ll fix it,” Bowser said. “But this system is meant for you to have that frustration once, not week after week.”
Bowser discouraged people who are not eligible to be vaccinated from registering when the system opens, saying they will not yet be considered for appointments. She wants to avoid potentially overloading the website and frustrating those who might not be eligible for a while.
“It could take weeks, even take months, depending on your risk factor and eligibility,” Bowser said. “We do not currently have enough vaccine for everybody who wants it.”
Forty percent of the initial portal appointments will be reserved for residents 65 and older, while another 40 percent will go to residents ages 18 to 64 with a qualifying medical condition. Twenty percent of appointments will go to essential workers. Half of all these appointments are reserved for people who live in priority Zip codes.
In Maryland, a new state analysis found rural counties have received nearly twice as many vaccine doses per capita than several more-populous jurisdictions in the center of the state.
Five counties on the Eastern Shore and the state’s westernmost county each received more than 20 doses per 100 residents, the analysis by the Department of Legislative Services found. In contrast, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Charles, Frederick, Harford, Montgomery, Prince George’s and Queen Anne’s counties received fewer than 11 doses per 100 residents.
The map prompted new questions for the administration of Gov. Larry Hogan (R), whose vaccine rollout has been criticized by Democratic lawmakers.
“It’s not fair to anyone who doesn’t live in those jurisdictions,” said Del. Shane E. Pendergrass (D-Howard), who is chair of the House Health and Government Operations Committee and requested the geographic analysis of state data.
Hogan spokesman Michael Ricci did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Dennis Schrader, Maryland’s acting health secretary, told state lawmakers Monday that doses were targeted to hospitals in the early days of the vaccine rollout but were adjusted as the state transitioned to vaccinating more of the general population. He said data from the past two weeks more closely tracks with population.
Baltimore City has many hospitals within its borders, which boosted its vaccine allotment. And state officials initially guaranteed a minimum amount of vaccine to every jurisdiction, meaning some of the least-populated areas got more per capita.
Schraeder said the state reviews data from its vaccine reporting system, ImmuNet, each week and makes adjustments “to make sure there’s equity for every jurisdiction.”
In Montgomery County, officials and advocates held a news conference asking state officials to ensure that retail pharmacies and private providers are not creating additional challenges for Latino, Black or immigrant residents seeking vaccine.
Members of Vaccine Hunters, a volunteer group that helps elderly residents get appointments, said several Black and Latino individuals were asked at retail pharmacies last week to produce documents verifying their identity or proving that they were eligible through their work.
Some undocumented residents were asked to produce U.S.-issued identification, and some Latino clergy members were told they needed more than their W-2 tax forms to prove that they were employed by religious institutions and therefore eligible for the vaccine under Phase 1C of Maryland’s plan, the Vaccine Hunters said.
With the help of the volunteers, these individuals were eventually able to procure vaccine, said Tania Perez-Fuentes, a member of Vaccine Hunters.
“To have multiple incidents like this with the same story is really, really troubling,” said Montgomery County Council President Tom Hucker (D-District 5), adding that such incidents might deter others in marginalized groups from seeking vaccine.
Montgomery officials have said for weeks that while they are working to ensure equitable access at county-run clinics, they have little to no control over private retailers and hospitals in the county, which receive their vaccine doses directly from the state.
Hucker said he supports the Vaccine Hunters’ requests for a statewide, multilingual hotline that residents can call for vaccine questions, as well as clear signage at all vaccine sites stating what documentation is necessary.
Montgomery expanded vaccine eligibility last week to those 65 and older, as well as certain essential workers. Raymond Crowel, head of the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, said about 70 percent of residents 75 and older have received at least one vaccine dose.
Rebecca Tan contributed to this report.