COVID-19 vaccine to be mandatory for Md. COs, other state congregate workers

Workers without vaccination proof must adhere to strict face covering requirements and submit to regular testing

By Teresa McMinn
Cumberland Times-News
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — While COVID-19 vaccination will be required for state workers in congregate settings, local hospitals aren't mandating their employees to be inoculated against the virus.

Workers at Maryland state departments including health, juvenile services, public safety and correctional services, and Veterans Affairs will be required to prove they're vaccinated against COVID-19, Gov. Larry Hogan said Thursday.

State workers without vaccination proof will be ordered to adhere to strict face covering requirements and submit to regular ongoing COVID-19 testing, Hogan said.

"So please, just get the damn vaccine," Governor Larry Hogan said at a news conference Thursday. (Pamela Wood/Baltimore Sun/TNS)

The protocols will take effect Sept. 1, by which date the employees will need to have received their first vaccination.

"Anyone attempting to provide false proof of vaccination will be subject to disciplinary action," Hogan said.

The COVID-19 delta variant accounts for nearly 100% of new cases being sequenced in Maryland, and 93% of cases nationwide, he said.

"There is nothing more effective at saving lives and keeping people out of the hospital than the vaccines, which are doing exactly what they were designed to do, which is preventing serious illness, hospitalizations and death," Hogan said.

"So please, just get the damn vaccine," the governor said.

Maryland will "lead by example" with the vaccination requirement for its workers in congregate settings, and is "also strongly urging" private operators of the state's 227 nursing homes to institute similar mandates for their employees, "just as the state's major hospital systems have already done," Hogan said.

This week, Maryland Hospital Association President & CEO Bob Atlas stated on the organization's website that increasingly, employers are weighing whether to make vaccination compulsory.

"In Maryland, Johns Hopkins Medicine and the University of Maryland Medical System were first to announce their own requirements, followed soon after by several other hospitals and systems — Meritus Health, Frederick Health, Adventist HealthCare, Luminis Health, GBMC, ChristianaCare," he wrote.

"Hospitals play a vitally important leadership role in your communities. Tying vaccination to employment ensures that Marylanders are safer and healthier."

Although UPMC Western Maryland and Garrett Regional Medical Center are MHA members, neither have plans to require COVID-19 vaccinations for employees.

In response to a Cumberland Times-News request for information Thursday, UPMC officials said the organization recognizes that vaccination and targeted mask use are key strategies in quelling the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, employees of the hospital system are not required to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"UPMC will continue its vaccine advocacy and outreach efforts, make vaccines easily and readily available for all, and maintain employee, patient, and visitor masking requirements in all of our facilities regardless of vaccination status," they said via email. "UPMC continues to evaluate how we can further strengthen our protocols, particularly in settings with highly vulnerable patient populations."

GRMC President and CEO Mark Boucot said the facility "has not yet" made it mandatory for its workforce to be vaccinated against COVID-19.

"The hospital leadership is following policy of the WVU Health System and encouraging all staff and county citizens to get vaccinated to protect themselves and others from COVID-19," he said via email Thursday.

"This is especially important considering the rapid spread of the delta variant, which is more contagious than the original virus. GRMC continues to follow the recommendations of (the) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for its infection prevention policies. At this time, everyone who enters the hospital must be masked and patient visitation is limited."

Maryland Institute for Emergency Medical Services Systems Dr. Ted Delbridge said the state is responding to a fifth wave of the pandemic.

Since early July, COVID-19-related hospitalizations have more than tripled, he said.

"Today there are 337 COVID-19 patients in Maryland hospitals and 26% are in intensive care units," Delbridge said.

"Each wave of pandemic has been accompanied by unique circumstances and concerns related to hospital capacity and the abilities to meet the needs of our state, and now is no exception," he said.

"Our health care workers are worn out," he said.

Hospitals across the state are seeing a shift in the age of COVID-19 patients that require admission, Delbridge said.

Earlier this year, 22% of COVID-19 patients were younger than 50 years old, he said.

"Now more than 42% are younger than 50 years," Delbridge said.

The unfortunate reality for unvaccinated folks is, it's not a matter of if they get COVID-19, it's a matter of when, he said.

"Despite the very best medical care, people will continue to die," Delbridge said. "The real tragedy (is) it doesn't have to be that way."

Increasing cases

The Maryland Department of Health on Thursday reported 729 new COVID-19 cases, two new deaths and 12 additional hospitalizations across the state in the past 24 hours.

The daily positive COVID-19 case rate was 3.64% statewide, 4.37% in Allegany County, 4.47% in Garrett County and 4.85% in Washington County.

The seven-day moving average case rate per 100,000 people was 9.21 statewide, 7.3 in Allegany County, 4.92 in Garrett County and 10.4 in Washington County.

Allegany County had Maryland's highest number of COVID-19 infections among staff at state and local congregate facilities, which included 170 cases at North Branch Correctional Institution and 133 at Western Correctional Institution.

As of Aug. 4, the number of COVID-19 delta variant cases in Maryland, discovered through sequencing, was 418, MDH Deputy Director of Media Relations Charlie Gischlar said via email. That number was 266 a week ago.

The Allegany County Health Department on Wednesday reported 18 new COVID-19 cases and one additional death due to the disease in the past week.

Vaccination rates

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 77.9% of Marylanders age 18 and older had gotten at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccination.

Allegany, Garrett and Washington counties had roughly half the statewide vaccination rate for a first COVID-19 vaccination dose. Those counties, along with Somerset and Caroline, were the only jurisdictions in Maryland that had not reached a 40% vaccination rate for a first dose.

(c)2021 the Cumberland Times News (Cumberland, Md.)

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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