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As start of school approaches, Howard County launches vaccination drive

Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano, left, and Howard County Executive Calvin Ball chat at Tuesday’s news conference announcing a COVID-19 vaccination drive. (The Daily Record/Bryan P. Sears)

Howard County officials said they will use the remaining summer weeks before school starts to increase vaccinations, especially among eligible students.

The push comes as schools in the county prepare to open in late August.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball, a Democrat, said the county has a high vaccination rate but that cases are climbing among the unvaccinated.

“We are thankfully in a place where we have an abundance of all three vaccines, but we still need to do everything in our power to keep our residents safe,” said Ball.

Howard County Public Schools Superintendent Michael Martirano said the school system is already atop the list of jurisdictions with high levels of vaccinations among eligible students and staff.

“We are not satisfied,” said Martirano. We can do better. Our infection numebrs remain low in relation to other counties and in the state but that does not mean that the risk doesn’t exist in Howard County. Our work is far from done.”

Schools reopen in Howard County in three weeks with all adults and children required to wear masks indoors regardless of vaccination status.

Martirano said returning children to in-person learning is the right decision but infections could result in some schools having to close “for an extended period of time. This is especially true given the spread of the Delta variant.”

More than 228,000 county residents — about 83% of the eligible population ages 12 and older — are fully vaccinated, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Still, cases continue to rise driven by the Delta variant and the unvaccinated. Howard County is now classified with 21 other Maryland political subdivisions as an area of substantial or high COVID-19 transmission. Only Carroll and Queen Anne’s counties remain in the moderate transmission range, according to the CDC.

Howard County Health Officer Dr. Maura Rossman said about 97,000 total residents, including many who are too young to be vaccinated remain vulnerable.

“In order to protect our community, we must vaccinate as many eligible residents as possible,” Rossman said. “Despite our amazingly high vaccination rate, it needs to be higher. For those waiting for the right time to become vaccinated, now is the right time.”

Ball said he and other county officials are now focused on convincing roughly 38,000 eligible but unvaccinated residents to get inoculated.

“The people most at risk right now are the unvaccinated, including members of our community who are not yet eligible for vaccination,” Ball said. “It is our responsibility as a community to get vaccinated to protect those that cannot protect themselves.”

The county is hoping to pare down the number of unvaccinated, including eligible children, through a series of promoted vaccination clinics and a campaign that includes a series of 30-second videos.

The effort also includes offering incentives to students attending Howard Community College, which is hosting a clinic for returning, new and prospective students Thursday. The college is offering an incentive — a $50 credit at the campus bookstore — for any student who can show proof of vaccination.