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Just outside the front doors of the former Lord & Taylor department store at The Mall in Columbia, two newly vaccinated women stopped a man on his way into the mall.
“Do you know where The Cheesecake Factory is?” they asked.
He didn’t know where it was, and they didn’t know the man they were asking was Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan on his way to tour Maryland’s newest mass COVID-19 vaccination site.
On Thursday, Hogan and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball toured Howard’s sole mass vaccination site inside the vacant Lord & Taylor location.
The site has vaccinated nearly 3,000 people since it opened Friday, according to Ball. There are almost 150 people staffing the site.
“We continue now to have steadily and rapidly declining health metrics in every category,” Hogan said of Maryland’s coronavirus numbers. “Our hospitalizations are down, our ICUs are down, deaths are down. Our case rate per 100,000, we just hit a six-month low at 11 cases per 100,000.”
Ball spoke about the equity built into the Howard mass vaccination site, given its location. It’s within walking distance for many Columbia residents, multiple bus routes have stops at the mall and the number of parking spaces make it an easy stop, he said.
Chas Eby, deputy executive director of the Maryland Emergency Management Agency, said the indoor mass vaccination sites move quickly; from start to finish, the whole process can take as little as 30 minutes, including the 15-minute observation time.
As of Thursday, 57% of Howard’s population have received at least their first dose of either the Pfizer-BioNTech or Moderna two-dose vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson, according to the Maryland Department of Health. In addition, 42% of Howard residents are fully vaccinated, making it the second-highest vaccination percentage in the state, behind only Talbot County on the Eastern Shore.
“There’s no excuse not to get vaccinated, and it’s the very best way to keep yourself, your family, your neighbors and your fellow Marylanders safe,” Hogan said Thursday.
Hogan said as long as the mass vaccination sites continue to see a steady stream of people, they will stay open.
“The need for the big ones is not going to be around forever, but we’re going to keep them open as long as we still have some customers,” Hogan said.
The Columbia clinic is open 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesdays through Sundays. People can call 1-855-MD-GOVAX or visit the state’s GoVAX website at onestop.md.gov/govax for more information on registering for appointments. Hogan also announced Wednesday that all of the state’s mass vaccination sites will now offer walk-up shots as well.
Hogan and Ball also addressed how they plan to reach teens ages 12 to 15 with the looming Pfizer approval expected to come next week. Currently the Pfizer vaccine also is the only one authorized for ages 16 and 17.
“We are not only having a very intentional marketing campaign, but just helping people understand that we have resources like right here at the mall,” Ball said. “When these young people are coming to The Mall in Columbia and they’re doing their shopping or what have you, it’s very convenient to just get their vaccine.”
Hogan said, however, he’s more concerned with the vaccine hesitancy in the 18-to-30 age category.
“People are just like, ‘Ah, I don’t think I need it. I’m strong and healthy.’ Let me tell you, we have strong, young healthy people being hospitalized every day even with our improving numbers,” Hogan said. “People who think they don’t need it are wrong.”
Howard County Council member Deb Jung, who represents District 4 where the site is located, called the facility the perfect location.
“You can come and get your good health back and get your vaccine, buy your Mother’s Day gift and have a great meal,” Jung said. “Where else can you do this in the entire state of Maryland except The Mall in Columbia?”