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Md. launches drive to boost COVID-19 tests, contact tracing

A COVID-19 test is administered at a drive-thru site in March 2020. Maryland officials are launching a campaign to remind residents of the need for testing even as the COVID-19 vaccination program is well underway. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

A COVID-19 test is administered at a drive-thru site in March 2020. Maryland officials are launching a campaign to remind residents of the need for testing even as the COVID-19 vaccination program is well underway. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

As the number of vaccinated Marylanders increases daily, a Maryland Department of Health marketing campaign wants to remind you that even if you are vaccinated, it’s important to continue following other COVID-19 guidance.

The campaign, called “Don’t Invite COVID,” encourages even vaccinated Marylanders to “enjoy the cookout. Just don’t invite COVID” by getting tested and alerting their contacts if they’ve been exposed to or are exhibiting symptoms of the virus.

Although all vaccines available in the United States are highly effective at preventing COVID-19, no vaccines are 100% effective; as of mid-April, around 5,800 people of the 77 million to have receive the vaccine had tested positive for the virus nationwide.

The campaign was inspired by recent news reports indicating that, due to vaccine hesitancy and virus variants, the country may never reach herd immunity, which occurs when enough people become immune to a disease that it is unlikely to spread. Because of this, it is important to maintain other methods of tracking and preventing the spread of the virus.

“As more Marylanders are vaccinated against COVID-19, we know more and more people will begin to return to doing the things that we’ve all missed over the last year, especially when it comes to gathering with family and friends,” said MDH Secretary Dennis Schrader in a press release about the campaign. “While vaccines are highly effective, testing and contact tracing remain critical to protecting the most vulnerable among us, until we reach herd immunity.”

Testing and contact tracing will also continue to be significant in the fight against COVID-19 as new variants emerge, including ones that are less resistant to the existing vaccines.

Testing rates in Maryland and nationwide have also been declining in recent months, dropping by a third from January to March throughout the U.S., according to Pew Research. But that trend was not a catalyst for this campaign, said Jon Weinstein, the head of MDH’s COVID-19 Testing Task Force.

In Maryland, the volume of testing has declined as compared to the volume that state saw during the major surge in COVID-19 cases that occurred during and following the winter holidays.

Testing volume is back to around what it was before the holidays.

Johns Hopkins’ COVID Resource Center shows that testing in Maryland hit its peak in December of last year, moving from a seven-day average of 47,986, or 797 tests per 100,000 Maryland residents, to only 25,153 tests, or 418 per 100,000, now. The seven-day average for tests is around where it was in October, hovering near 30,000 tests per day, although testing volume has been steadily declining since mid-April.

“The status of testing in the state remains fairly stable,” Weinstein said. “Where we are is not much different from where we expected to be.”

Additionally, the fact that the positivity rate has remained low even as the number of tests has decreased indicates that an adequate amount of testing is occurring, he said. Maryland’s positivity rate right now is at about 3% and has been declining since mid-April, around when the number of total tests also began declining.

Despite declines, the state is also nearing its 10 millionth test, which will be taken some time this week, according to Weinstein.

The campaign debuted today on social media and will continue through October, including TV, radio and digital media advertisements.

“The good news is people can get together again. If you’re vaccinated, getting together with other vaccinated people is pretty safe,” Weinstein said. “The heart of the campaign is to remind people that if you’re going to do that, do that smartly, and don’t invite COVID.”