It’s official: Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced Tuesday a mass vaccination site is coming to Montgomery County early next month — one of six additional large-scale vaccine sites the state is planning to open as it anticipates a big boost in vaccine supplies.
The Montgomery County mass vaccine site will be at the Germantown campus of Montgomery College, which the county has been preparing to transform into a vaccine site for weeks. It is set to open the week of April 5, Hogan announced during a Tuesday news conference.
That same week, Hogan said the Baltimore County vaccine site at the Timonium Fairgrounds will be transitioned into a state-supported mass vaccination site.
There are also plans to open mass vaccination sites in Anne Arundel, Frederick, Howard and Harford counties, Hogan said. Specific locations were not provided.
All told, the six additional sites will double the number of mass vaccination sites that will be up and running across Maryland by the end of next month.
The state initially planned to open six mass vaccination sites, including one at the Hagerstown Premium Outlets in Western Maryland that is due to open Thursday.
Officials in Montgomery County — Maryland’s largest — had pushed for several weeks for a mass vaccination site. Last week, county officials announced the state had signed on to support the site, but at the time Hogan said that announcement was premature.
Speaking Tuesday, Hogan said the official announcement of the Germantown site comes after the state was assured by the White House coronavirus task force that a “significant increase” in COVID-19 vaccine doses supplied by the federal government would start shipping next week.
“Before we knew what we were told today by the White House, we couldn’t be positive … So the supply is coming, and we will be as prepared as anybody in the country,” Hogan said.
In addition, Hogan said the state would expand vaccine eligibility next week to all Marylanders with disabilities. Starting March 30, Marylanders 16-64 with underlying health conditions are also eligible for the shots under Phase 2b of the state’s plan.
Last week, Hogan laid out a timeline of the state’s vaccine rollout that would make all adults in the state eligible by April 27 — ahead of a May 1 goal set by President Joe Biden.
Members of the Montgomery County Council celebrated Hogan’s announcement of the Germantown location.
Great news from @GovLarryHogan ! Montgomery County’s first mass vaccination site will be opening the week of April 5 and will be at @montgomerycoll Germantown Campus. Thank you to everyone in the community who helped us to advocate and make this site a reality. #VaccineEquity
— Nancy Navarro (@nancy_navarro) March 23, 2021
“With thousands of Montgomery County residents leaving the County and driving to other jurisdictions to get vaccinated, we are pleased to have a site that will provide better access for our residents and other Marylanders,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement.
As previously described by Dr. Earl Stoddard, the head of Montgomery County’s Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, the Germantown site is expected to open by the end of the month as a county-run site in partnership with Holy Cross Health. Once the state partnership kicks in, the site is expected to pump out 3,000 COVID-19 vaccine shots a day.
In a statement, Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski said the county’s site at the Timonium Fairgrounds “has consistently been recognized as the best-run operation in the state and is ready to be scaled up thanks to the efficiency and effectiveness of our team.”
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Just how many more vaccine doses Maryland will get from the feds is still unclear.
Speaking to a state Senate committee Monday, acting Maryland State Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said the boost in doses could see the state getting 300,000 to 400,000 vaccine doses.
During his news conference Tuesday, Hogan declined to discuss specifics, saying those figures haven’t yet been provided by the Biden administration.
“It’s going to be a pretty substantial increase, but we don’t have exact numbers,” Hogan said, adding, “It’s like the cavalry is finally coming to our rescue and we’re going to be prepared.
‘Race between the vaccines and the variants’
Overall, the pace of vaccinations in Maryland has been on an upswing after a shakier rollout earlier in the winter.
As it stands now, the state has administered 2.2 million shots. More than 70% of Marylanders 65 and older — and 35% of all adults — have received at least one dose.
Hogan said the effort to ramp up the pace of shots is a “race between the vaccines and the variants,” referring to more transmissible strains of the coronavirus that have popped up around the world.
“We have to get more people vaccinated before these variants take hold,” Hogan told reporters Tuesday.
Maryland has already ramped up genetic sequencing of coronavirus test samples, which is the only way to identify the variants.
Among the most concerning is the variant that was first identified in the U.K. last year, known as the B.1.1.7 variant. Another concerning variant involves a strain first identified in New York.
Dr. David Marcozzi, COVID-19 incident commander for the University of Maryland Medical System, said it appears the UK variant “is spreading more easily between us and making us sicker.”
The doctor said the cases in Maryland involving the B.1.1.7 variant appear to be causing a variety of symptoms, such as nausea, vomiting and diarrhea, that have not typically been seen with the traditional strain of the virus.
In addition, doctors are seeing more younger patients that are being hospitalized with the virus, Hogan said.
“This more virulent strain seems to be impacting younger folks,” Hogan said. “We’re seeing people being hospitalized now that are in their, you know 40 -to-60 range instead of people in their 80s.”
Hogan pointed to cases involving midshipmen at the Naval Academy in Annapolis “who were much sicker than last time and having these intestinal issue rather than respiratory issues.”