Nobody wants to hear it, but another wave of COVID is here in Maryland – Baltimore Sun

Cases are rising in Maryland and much of the Northeast so quickly that it seems like everyone knows someone who has COVID-19. Some of those infected have had it before, while others have it for the first time.

“It’s not over,” Crystal Watson, public health officer at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security’s Coronavirus Resource Center, said at a news conference Friday marking the United States reached the milestone of one million COVID-19 deaths earlier in the week. .

“We are in the middle of a wave,” she said.

It may not be like the peak of the pandemic in the winter of 2021-2022, Watson said, “but it’s still important to be actively vigilant to prevent infection.”

It’s not a message people want to hear, experts and public health officials agree. But it is necessary.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said Thursday that the third of the country with high case numbers, including the Northeast and Midwest, should mask up again indoors and in crowded spaces.

the city of Baltimore and a dozen counties in Maryland, including Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Harford and Howard, have moderate levels of community spread of the coronavirus, and public health experts say people should also consider wearing masks here, given the recovery and the highly contagious nature of circulating omicron subvariants.

The Maryland Department of Health reported 3,016 new cases Friday, the most in a single day since Jan. 28.

Watson and others say the numbers may not look as bad as when they peaked earlier in January, but there are certainly many more infections than reported, as many people are now testing at home and not not report the results.

She doesn’t want people to ignore the advice. What some people are doing is disheartening to some public health experts, even those who don’t believe this wave – fueled by these omicron subvariants – will grow much larger.

Models from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show that this surge peaks in late May, drops over the summer, and does not lead to significantly higher levels of hospitalizations. .

Ali Mokdad, a professor at the institute, said so many people have been vaccinated or infected that they do not become seriously ill, although with waning immunity over time they can still catch the virus if exposed. . The omicron subvariants that now dominate cases also do not appear to be more virulent than the previous ones, although they are highly contagious.

“The main reason for the increase in infections is behavioral change,” Mokdad said. “People assume there is no more COVID. People don’t mask, their mobility is high, with spring break and holidays. People let their guard down. »

It also means that more children are now infected and spreading the virus to school and to their parents and neighbours. They may not end up hospitalized. But, particularly if not vaccinated, they risk long COVID, the condition in which people show symptoms for weeks or months.

They also perpetuate a cycle of infection, Mokdad said.

And some people are getting sick enough to need treatment as hospital patients. There were 426 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maryland on Friday, the most since mid-February but still well below January’s peak of over 3,200.

This concerns hospital administrators, as beds are full with other patients and many staff positions, especially nursing positions, go unfilled.

“Hospitals are monitoring neighboring states and national trends,” said Bob Atlas, president and CEO of the Maryland Hospital Association.

“Currently, COVID-19 patients represent only 5% of hospital volumes, but we are constrained by all other necessary medical care and ongoing staffing shortages,” he said. “We strongly recommend that everyone follow the most complete course of vaccination for which they are eligible and continue to use common sense to protect themselves and their families.”

The current thrust, although weaker than that of last winter, is significant. The state reported 11,623 cases in the past week, nearly twice as many as a week earlier. The percentage of tests performed at state labs that come back positive is about 8.4%, above the standard 5% threshold that indicates cases are widespread.

Public health officials and experts say there are signs the public is already in a summer mood and skipping resumption precautions.

Local health departments are distributing home test kits, but there is no rush to get them. The federal website that sends them for free is offering them for the third time.

Mask use has fallen from around 67% in January to around 29% now, according to national surveys by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the lowest usage since the institute began tracking.

State health officials continue to provide and advertise vaccinations, but the long lines have disappeared. Officials have started texting and calling eligible adults to get another booster shot, but demand for those also appears to have waned.

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The national vaccination rate has stalled at about two-thirds, with about half of eligible people receiving a booster, according to the CDC. Maryland has a higher rate of fully vaccinated people at around 76%.

Chase Cook, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, said officials focused on additional injections because “maintaining that immunity by being boosted helps Marylanders learn to live with the virus. We encourage all eligible Marylanders to get boosted as soon as possible.

The department sent a memo Friday to all state providers that includes updated guidance on vaccines and boosters authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, including a vaccine booster dose for children between the ages of 5 and 11 that the federal government authorized a day earlier. The memo also asks providers to allow people to simply declare that they are eligible for a shot.

Experts say some people may think the vaccines they have on board are enough. Or they wait until the fall, when there might be a combined flu-COVID vaccine or a nasal vaccine that might be more effective at preventing infection and rather than just reducing the risk of serious illness. But experts recommend getting the vaccines available now, especially for those most at risk of serious illness.

Dr. Brian Garibaldi, medical director of Johns Hopkins’ biocontainment unit, also said at Friday’s press conference that people who are infected and at risk of serious illness should seek treatment. There is monoclonal antibody therapy that works on omicron subvariants as well as oral antivirals, such as Paxlovid, which, if taken early, can prevent hospitalizations for COVID-19, he said. -he declares.

But Garibaldi and others say they hope people don’t give up on preventing infection to begin with.

“We know masks work; we know they prevent disease and save lives,” he said. “It’s not just about you, it’s about those around you.”

Lillian L. Pena