Maryland reports more than 300 new COVID cases in a day for the first time since late May

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For the first day since May 22, Maryland health officials reported more than 300 new cases of COVID-19 Thursday, continuing an increase in infections that experts are pinning on the more contagious delta variant of the virus — and on relaxed restrictions.

Thursday’s case load, 303, is three times higher than that of two weeks ago. The state’s testing positivity rate also continued to inch upward Thursday, reaching 1.73%, as the state reported conducting the largest number of daily tests in two weeks. Two weeks ago, the rate was 0.82%.

Hospitalizations, which tend to lag behind increases in infections, have only increased a bit over the past few weeks, reaching 152 Thursday.

Still, the state is performing far better than at the beginning of this year, when thousands of new cases were reported daily and the positivity rate nearly reached 10%. At that time, close to 2,000 Marylanders were hospitalized with COVID-19.

Maryland also is performing better than other states in the face of the variants. With a case rate of roughly 3 per 100,000, according to The New York Times, Maryland ranks third among all states, behind only Vermont and New Hampshire.

That’s thanks in large part to Maryland’s high vaccination rate, experts say. The state has 76.4% of its adult population partially vaccinated against the virus, while 58.21% of the state is fully vaccinated, according to the Maryland Department of Health. The Centers for Disease Control ranked Maryland eighth among U.S. states as of Thursday in the number of doses delivered to its adult population per 100,000 people.

But vaccinations have plateaued. The state hasn’t delivered more than 20,000 shots in a day during July. For much of the spring, the state administered 40,000 to 80,000 shots a day.

The state has shuttered mass vaccination sites at stadiums and in parking lots, and is focusing instead on targeted efforts to reach the vulnerable and the vaccine hesitant. Younger people, who got access to the vaccine last, are one of the groups officials are targeting.

So far, 89% of all Marylanders 65-years-old and older have received at least one dose of a coronavirus vaccine. By comparison, 65.3% of people 18 to 49-years-old and 54.3% of people 12 to 17-years-old (the youngest age group eligible for vaccination) have received at least one shot.

The high rate of vaccination among elderly Marylanders has helped improve conditions in nursing homes, once epicenters of damaging outbreaks.

Over the past week, no nursing home residents have died from or been hospitalized because of COVID-19, according to a tweet from Mike Ricci, spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan. There were only two new cases reported among residents this week, he added.

At the peak of the pandemic, there were as many as 16 nursing home residents dying from the virus each day, 45 being hospitalized and 137 being newly diagnosed, Ricci said.

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