Doctor: Rural hospitals 'disproportionately affected by coronavirus'

·4 min read

Sep. 30—ANNAPOLIS — While many Maryland jurisdictions have moved forward and are focused on COVID-19 booster shots in the fight to end the pandemic, Allegany and Garrett counties are far behind most of the state for the number of residents that have gotten at least one dose of a vaccine.

Meanwhile, the two most western counties also have the highest case rates in Maryland, as well as more hospitalized COVID-19 patients than most other jurisdictions.

"Rural hospitals are being disproportionately affected by coronavirus," Dr. Ted Delbridge, executive director of the Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems, said Thursday of areas including western Maryland where a lower proportion of residents have sought COVID-19 vaccination.

"Undoubtedly, that's no coincidence," he said.

Delbridge was at a press conference with Gov. Larry Hogan and Maryland Health Secretary Dennis Schrader to provide a COVID-19 update.

As of Thursday, 797 adults and 11 children were being treated for COVID-19 in Maryland hospitals, he said.

"Overall, 10% of patients in acute care hospital beds have COVID-19, as do 22% of patients in intensive care units," Delbridge said. "In fact, one out of every four COVID-19 patients in a hospital is in an intensive care unit."

He also talked of last year's mild flu season, when disease mitigation practices were in full force.

Now, "Marylanders unquestionably are back on the go," Delbridge said of folks that are less likely to wear masks.

"We're already seeing more people with an assortment of respiratory illnesses seek medical care," he said.

Medical workers "are just plain tired of going at more than 100% for so long," Delbridge said. "Hospital staffing is a challenge leading to less flexibility to accommodate new surges in patients."

Marylanders should ask themselves, "What can I do?" he said.

"First and foremost, if you have not been vaccinated for COVID-19, please do so," Delbridge said. "This problem will not go away without you."

Additionally, more than one-third of people who get COVID-19 end up with long-term health effects, he said.

"Vaccines are exceptionally safe and effective," Delbridge said. "I wouldn't have gotten one myself, or made sure that my family did as well if I didn't believe that."

Hogan talked of COVID-19 booster shot eligibility for Marylanders.

"To determine your eligibility for a COVID-19 booster shot, the simplest thing to do is look at your vaccination card," he said.

"If you received your second dose of the Pfizer vaccine at least six months ago, meaning March 30th or earlier, you may qualify for one of the categories which are currently approved, which are everyone 65 and older, everyone 18 and older with underlying health conditions, and everyone 18 and older whose occupation puts them at increased risk, including first responders, health care workers and public transit and grocery store workers," Hogan said.

"If, like me, your vaccination card says that you received a Moderna COVID-19 vaccine and you are immunocompromised, you are also eligible for a booster shot," he said. "However, there's still no approval or guidance yet on Moderna boosters for the wider population, although the White House this week advised us that this is expected shortly."

Federal guidance has not been issued for the more than 280,000 Marylanders who received the single dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Hogan said.

Marylanders can visit covidvax.maryland.gov to learn more about boosters.

The governor also said he is awaiting federal approval of COVID-19 vaccines for children ages 5 to 11.

"Earlier this week Pfizer submitted data to the (Food and Drug Administration) showing that its vaccine is safe and effective for children," he said. "We anticipate that approval of this will come by the end of October."

Schrader said the state's COVID-19 vaccine call center will reach out to all residents that are eligible for a booster shot.

"All COVID-19 vaccine providers in the state have received the Department of Health's bulletin that provides them with clear guidance, including that anyone who asks for a booster shot simply needs to self attest that they are eligible and that no provider should turn anyone away," he said.

State, local numbers

Thursday, the Maryland Department of Health reported 1,479 new COVID-19 cases, 16 additional deaths and 22 more hospitalizations across the state in the past 24 hours.

Maryland's three most western jurisdictions had the state's highest daily COVID-19 case rate at 10.42% in Allegany County, 14.81% in Garrett County, and 10.58% in Washington County. The statewide rate was 4.04%.

The seven-day moving average COVID-19 case rate per 100,000 people was 20.27 statewide, with Garrett County having Maryland's highest number at 64.99. Allegany County was at 56.81 and Washington County was at 49.18.

Teresa McMinn is the Digital Editor for the Cumberland Times-News. She can be reached at 304-639-2371 or tmcminn@times-news.com.

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