Md. health department urges masks, vaccination after respiratory illness-related hospitalizations

This article was republished with permission from WTOP’s news partners at Maryland Matters. Sign up for Maryland Matters’ free email subscription today.

As people return home from holiday travel and spending time with loved ones over the past couple weeks, the Maryland Department of Health is urging clinicians to strengthen protective measures to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses.

The rate of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 and other viruses increased during the last week of 2023, and the state Department of Health is urging clinicians to implement “broad facility-wide” prevention measures such as masking and vaccination efforts to bring the hospitalization rate back down.

According to a letter on Dec. 28, Deputy Secretary for Public Health Services Nilesh Kalyanaraman said that the weekly respiratory virus-associated hospitalization rate increased “due in large part to increasing COVID and flu infections” based off of data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The combined data includes hospitalizations for COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV.

At the time of the advisory letter to clinicians, the Maryland combined hospitalization rate for the week ending on December 16 was 11.4 per 100,000 residents, according to the Department of Health.

“Broad facility-wide source control can be discontinued once the combined weekly respiratory virus-associated hospitalization rate has been below 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 residents for two consecutive weeks,” the letter says.

In the letter, Kalyanaraman said that clinicians and health care facilities should implement universal masking in “all patient care areas and patient-facing health care settings.”

He also said to “vaccinate eligible patients and healthcare workers” against COVID-19, influenza and RSV and reminded clinicians to treat cases of respiratory illnesses with antivirals quickly when appropriate.

Other measures include ensuring that employees and clinicians use personal protective equipment correctly and to optimize ventilation in health care facilities.

As of Wednesday, the department reports that the current weekly combined hospitalization rate is at 7.6.

Additionally, the Department of Health encourages Marylanders to take steps in order to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses, according to an email from the department.

The health department notes that people can receive both the updated COVID-19 vaccine and the annual flu shot at the same time. There is also a new vaccine against RSV.

The CDC and Maryland Health Department both urged people to receive updated vaccines prior to holiday travels and family gatherings to reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses and prevent exposure to those who may have lower immune systems.

The department also reminds Marylanders that washing hands, covering up a sneeze or a cough and staying home when sick can also reduce the spread of respiratory illnesses.

COVID data

Many Maryland counties have a medium rate of hospitalizations due to COVID-19 as of Jan. 3. (Courtesy Maryland Department of Health)

The Maryland Department of Health has issued regular updates to the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths related to COVID-19 specifically since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Maryland Matters has been tracking the state’s COVID-19 data released weekly by the Maryland Department of Health.

Since March 18, 2020 through Dec. 31, 2023, there have been a total of 1,426,906 cases of COVID-19 reported by the Department of Health.

During that same time frame, more than 17,150 Marylanders have died from COVID-19.

On New Year’s Eve, seven COVID-related deaths were reported and there were 499 people who were hospitalized that day.

Three days into the new year, there are already 1,306 new cases of COVID-19 and at least 11 deaths, according to the Department of Health’s data.

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up