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Anne Arundel eyes child vaccinations, lifting of mask rule

Anne Arundel County has long planned for vaccinations for roughly 52,000 children ages 5-11 who live in the county, says Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the county’s health officer. (The Daily Record/File Photo)

Masking requirements could be lifted in one central Maryland county if current trends in COVID-19 infections continue to decline.

Anne Arundel County officials also are preparing to vaccinate more than 50,000 children who could soon become eligible for a coronavirus inoculation. Officials noted that there have been declines in deaths and infections, but they remain concerned that cold weather could spark another wave.

“Our case rates are dropping, and they’re dropping at a good clip,” said County Executive Steuart Pittman, a first-term Democrat.

Anne Arundel County is one of seven counties considered a substantial community transmission area by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Case rates and deaths continue to decline. The county currently reports a seven-day average of slightly more than 13 cases per 100,000 residents. This is a decrease from the 20-per-day average during the most recent spike.

Hospitalizations and deaths in the county also continue to decline, according to Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman, the county health officer.

“Definitely, the trends are going in the direction that we’d like to see,” said Kalyanaraman. “That means, hopefully, people are safer.”

CDC guidelines recommend the use of masks in all public indoor settings when the transmission rate reaches an average of seven cases per day.

Pittman mandated the use of masks in early August. He did not impose similar requirements on businesses. Prince Geroge’s County and the City of Baltimore imposed mask mandates for government offices and businesses.

“When we get back down to seven, which is where we’re headed, the masks can come off for folks who are vaccinated in county buildings and there will no longer be a recommendation for masks indoors in public facilities by the CDC for people who are vaccinated,” said Pittman.

Kalyanaraman said health officials are monitoring infection rates as cooler fall and winter weather sets in.

Last year, cases in Maryland spiked beginning near the end of October. That spike continued through the winter even as the first vaccine doses were administered.

Some models are predicting a fall and winter surge heading into Thanksgiving in Maryland and nationally. Some states have seen cases increase as cooler weather forced more indoor activities.

“That’s the core concern we have, and that’s why we keep pushing on the vaccinations,” said Kalyanaraman.

The health officer noted that states, including Idaho and the Dakotas, where some increases are being seen, also have lower vaccination rates.

“That’s really going to determine what we see over the coming months as people do go inside and gather together and, of course, we have the holidays,” he said.

Next week, the FDA is expected to consider approval of a vaccine dose for children ages 5-11. The CDC will meet in early November to make its recommendations.

Kalyanaraman said the county has long planned for vaccinations for roughly 52,000 children ages 5-11 live in Anne Arundel County.

“It’s unlikely there’s going to be any kids or just a handful that will be fully vaccinated prior to Thanksgiving,” said Kalyanaraman. “We’re looking to get as many kids as possible fully vaccinated before the winter holidays, Christmas and New Year’s.”

The doctor said the goal is to offer vaccines soon after federal authorization. The county has enough staff in place to administer the pediatric vaccine.

“If we have it pre-positioned, we’re ready to start within a day or two of approval,” he said.

If approved, the county plans to make the vaccine available regionally at 20 elementary schools. Doses will also be available at the county’s other vaccination sites.

“Ultimately, we just want to make it readily and easily available for families so that they can get the shot when they want it,” Kalyanaraman said.

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