ANNAPOLIS — Maryland will expand eligibility for coronavirus vaccinations to residents with disabilities at the same time it plans on doubling the number of mass vaccination sites.
Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and the leaders of other states were told to expect significant increases in the amount of doses being shipped by the federal government beginning next week. The expectation allows Maryland to expand the pool of eligible residents in Phase Two B, the governor said.
Hogan described a Tuesday call with White House officials in which states were promised increased allocations as “hopeful.”
“We’ll get them done as fast as they can give them to us,” said Hogan. “We’re ready to do far more than we have and they’re promising they’re on the way. It’s like the cavalry is finally coming to our rescue. We’re going to be prepared.”
Maryland currently has five mass vaccination sites around the state including in Baltimore city and in Charles, Wicomico and Prince George’s counties. A sixth is scheduled to open this week in Hagerstown.
Starting April 5, the state will take over the mass vaccination site at the Maryland State Fairgrounds in Timonium now run by Baltimore County. That same week the state plans to open a long-expected site at Montgomery College in Germantown.
By April 12, Hogan said, the state expects to have two additional sites set up in Anne Arundel and Frederick counties. The location of those operations as well as two more expected in April for Harford and Howard counties have not been determined.
The expansion comes as some national experts express concerns about a new spike in infections driven by variants, including one first discovered in the United Kingdom.
Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander at the University of Maryland Medical System and a top adviser to Hogan on the pandemic, stressed that the state is in a race to vaccinate as many people as possible as variants of the disease begin to take hold.
“This all-of-Maryland public and private approach (to vaccinations) is exactly what is needed,” said Marcozzi.
Nationally, health experts cite a flattening of the sharp decreases that had been seen in cases, positivity rates and hospitalizations. Hogan told reporters Maryland is in a similar position.
There are some initial signs that Maryland is seeing an uptick after weeks of decreasing or flattening statistics.
The state has seen an increase in its rolling seven-day average of new cases from 746 on March 7 to 959 as of Tuesday. In the last week, the average number of cases has increased by 10%. Similarly, hospitalizations, which once dropped to 765 on March 12 has increased to 895 on Tuesday. Acute patients have seen similar increases. Only ICU cases has truly plateaued, holding at about 200 or so patients daily since the start of March.
The state’s new cases per 100,000 people, positivity rate and infection rates have also seen increases in the last 10-14 days.
“This more virulent strain seems to be impacting younger folks,” said Hogan. “We’re seeing people being hospitalized that are in their 40-to-60 range and not in their 80s. We’re not having an issue with our nursing homes any more.”
Maryland moved into Phase Two A on Tuesday, and all residents 60 years old and older are eligible for vaccinations.
Next Tuesday, the state will move into Phase Two B. Residents 16 years old and older with certain underlying medical conditions that make them more susceptible to the more severe effects of the virus will be eligible. The governor Tuesday expanded that further to include residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities 16 years and older.
State Department of Disabilities Secretary Carol Beatty said people receiving long-term care and support in their homes face COVID-19 risks similar to those of nursing home residents. Those people are also some of the poorest and hardest to reach, she said.
“Like people in nursing homes, many people with disabilities rely on the close physical proximity of caregivers for their daily needs, which limits their ability to adopt preventative measures such as social distancing,” said Beatty. “Today’s announcement of the inclusion of a broader group of people with disabilities in Phase Two B addresses the equity concerns for people with disabilities.”
Hogan said the state will follow CDC guidelines on who is eligible for those doses in the coming week.
Currently, the state is set up to complete about 500,000 vaccinations per week. Acting Health Secretary Dennis Schrader told a Senate oversight group on Monday that the governor has tasked his agency with being able to handle at least 100,000 doses per day.
Schrader told the panel he expects the state could receive up to 400,000 doses per week — first and second shots — starting as soon as next week.
Hogan, speaking to reporters Tuesday, said it is not yet known how many doses the state will receive.
Under Hogan’s plan, Maryland is set to open up eligibility for vaccinations to all Marylanders before the end of April, days ahead of President Joe Biden’s call for states to do so by May 1. Biden, earlier this month, said he hoped enough people nationally could be vaccinated in the spring and early summer to see small family gatherings become safe by the July 4 holiday.
But eligibility will not, at least initially, mean guaranteed access to a dose.
“At some point soon we’re going to shift from huge demand and no supply to we’re going to have plenty of vaccines and we’re going to be out searching for people and trying to convince people to take them.” Hogan said.
So far, however, Hogan said he is not setting a goal for the percentage of the state’s 6 million residents he’d like to see vaccinated by July 4.
“Some of the data will tell you that 60% very much want to have the vaccine, about 20% are kind of like what you’d call swing voters and can be persuaded, but they’re not sure they want it or not, and 20% absolutely don’t want it,” said Hogan. “We want to convince all those persuadables and try to get as many of them done. The whole 60% that want one is going to have one in short order.”