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Montgomery County, Md., reports progress in closing racial gaps in vaccinations

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) speaks with reporters after touring the mass vaccination site at Montgomery College’s Germantown Campus this month. At center is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R).
Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich (D) speaks with reporters after touring the mass vaccination site at Montgomery College’s Germantown Campus this month. At center is Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R). (Marvin Joseph/The Washington Post)
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Montgomery County has narrowed the coronavirus vaccination gap among different racial groups, County Executive Marc Elrich said Thursday.

In February, about 20 percent of Black and Latino county residents older than 65 had been vaccinated, compared with 30 percent of Asian residents and 40 percent of White residents in that age group.

As of early April, about 60 percent of Black and Latino residents over 65 had been vaccinated, compared with 70 percent of Asian residents and 65 percent of White residents in that age group.

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Statewide, across all age groups, there is about a 21 percentage-point gap between Black and White residents who have been vaccinated; in Montgomery, that figure is 17 percentage points.

“We are not done. We’re going to continue doing this work to make sure we can get those gaps closed,” said Elrich (D). “This has been, from the beginning, a priority for us.”

The county launched its equity efforts in January, prioritizing residents of certain Zip codes for vaccine appointments and waiting to expand eligibility so those in underserved areas could get appointments.

In a news conference Thursday, members of the county’s minority health initiatives said they had been working with houses of worship, Black college sororities and fraternities, and other community groups to increase outreach efforts in recent weeks.

Betty Lam, the chief of Montgomery County’s office of community affairs, said Asian American staff members, for example, have worked with community groups to call more than 5,000 elderly Asian residents in the county, successfully scheduling 1,500 vaccination appointments.

“We’re not celebrating, and we’re not saying ‘mission accomplished,’ ” said County Health Officer Travis Gayles. The racial inequities in the county are still too large, he said. “We’re just highlighting the tremendous work that has gone into this.”

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D.C., Maryland and Virginia reported a total of 2,965 new coronavirus cases Thursday, continuing a slight rise in infection numbers that has been driven primarily by increases in Maryland. The state’s seven-day average of new cases exceeded 1,400 this week, which is higher than the peak caseload reported during Maryland’s first two surges of the virus in May and July of last year.

Hospitalizations and the test positivity rate in the state have also crept up, with the total number of hospital beds being used for covid-19 patients reaching its highest level since February.

In comparison, infections and hospitalizations in D.C. and Virginia have largely plateaued since early March.

Maryland resumed walk-up vaccinations Thursday at the two mass vaccination sites where the no-appointment shots had been canceled earlier this week as the state halted the use of Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine.

Walk-up patients in Hagerstown and Salisbury will receive the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine instead, state officials said.

Erin Cox contributed to this report.

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