With COVID-19 cases rising rapidly in Baltimore, city health commissioner advises people to return to wearing masks indoors – Baltimore Sun

Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner, said Tuesday that she strongly recommends that everyone wear a mask indoors, regardless of vaccination status, given the city’s large increase in COVID-19 cases.

He stopped short of seeking a new mask mandate because the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still considers community transmission low in Baltimore, as well as throughout Maryland.

“We will start with a recommendation, and if the need arises and we continue to see this increase, we will consider reinstating that mask order,” he said.

“This is not a mandate. This is a warning.”

Cases are rising rapidly in the city and state, although they are nowhere near the peak of the pandemic in January, Dzirasa said.

The city has been averaging 180 new cases per day over the past week, a 243% increase over the past month. But that’s a tiny fraction of the daily cases reported in January, when cases topped 1,900 a day.

Hospitalizations, a key factor in the CDC’s assessment, remain relatively low in the city with 83 people in hospital beds with coronavirus. That’s up 28% in the past month, but also well below the January peak of 950, city data shows.

Public health officials believe that many cases are not being reported because people are not getting tested or are testing at home with rapid tests. But the relatively low hospitalization rate probably indicates that vaccinations and boosters, as well as previous infections, are preventing many people from developing serious illness.

Dzirasa said there has been a significant increase in cases among young adults and said the city would launch a new campaign in theaters to vaccinate the group.

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But he urged everyone to get vaccinated and beefed up to protect themselves and stop the spread of the disease. He noted that a high rate of community vaccination would protect young children, under 5 years of age, who remain ineligible for vaccination, as well as older people who tend to lose immunity more quickly.

The health department’s warning comes as the city faces a larger spike than the state as a whole. The infection rate in Baltimore is about 150 per 100,000 people, six times that of the state.

Around Maryland, 1,626 new cases were reported Tuesday, also well below the peak of the pandemic in January, above 15,000 daily cases, state data shows. A little more than 300 people were hospitalized.

Public health leaders continue to implore people not to let their guard down, though officials like Dzirasa say they understand people want to return to social activities and summer vacations. He said to remember that “it’s always safer outside.”

While hospitalizations and deaths have not increased as much as cases, the omicron variant now circulating is highly contagious and with more cases, more people will become seriously ill.

In its regular report on COVID-19, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security notes that the country is on the cusp of a grim milestone in the pandemic: 1 million deaths reported nationwide, though some believe that threshold has already been crossed.

And what is to come? Hopkins experts say the country should brace for an even bigger spike in cases in the colder months this fall and winter due to waning immunity, a public weary of prevention measures and new variants.

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