Gov. Larry Hogan hailed the improving coronavirus metrics Tuesday and said that Maryland could soon be receiving and administering another COVID-19 vaccine.
In another wide-ranging news conference on the virus from the State House, Hogan said that states had been notified by the White House and officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that a single-dose vaccine from Johnson & Johnson is on the verge of receiving emergency-use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration and could be shipped to states as soon as next week.
Johnson & Johnson, which is producing the vaccine at the Emergent BioSolutions plant in East Baltimore, has 2 million doses ready to ship across the country once it gets FDA approval, which could be granted before the end of the week, according to Hogan.
Production could ramp up to 20 million doses by the end of March, which Hogan said was “quite a ramp-up.” That could mean 400,000 more vaccines for Maryland, according to the governor. He added they are still waiting on more information from the federal government on the size and timing of the allotments.
Maryland currently receives about 88,000 doses per week from the federal government of the only vaccines currently authorized for use in the U.S., two-dose shots from drug manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna.
So, a third vaccine — a single-dose shot at that — could significantly help resolve supply issues that have hampered the vaccination effort so far on the national, state and local levels and speed up the effort to end the pandemic.
Case numbers, hospitalizations and the seven-day rolling positivity rate have all fallen to their lowest levels since October.
In Frederick County, there were 32 new cases reported Tuesday, which is a third of the number that was reported for most of January. Hospitalizations in the county have almost been cut in half since the end of January, and the positivity rate (4.42 percent) is at its lowest level since early November.
Tuesday marked the second consecutive day in the county with no virus-related deaths.
With improving metrics and another vaccine on the horizon, Hogan was asked if he’d consider lifting some restrictions soon.
“Certainly, those are things we are taking a very close look at,” he said. “You know, we have 100 percent of our businesses open at this point, but we do have some capacity restrictions. I don’t see us lifting any masking orders anytime soon because of the worry about the [coronavirus] variants.”
The improving metrics allowed Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner to lift an executive order Monday that curbed the hours of operation for restaurants and bars and prohibited them from serving alcohol past 10 p.m.
Those same restaurants and bars must still abide by Hogan’s executive order for food establishments that require them to operate at no more than 50 percent capacity and maintain 6 feet of distance between tables with no more than six allowed to sit at a table. All patrons must wear a mask except when they are eating and drinking, and there is no congregating at the bar.
At Tuesday’s news conference, Hogan extended the mask mandate through executive order to anyone over the age of 5 in any area of a school setting where interactions are likely, including classrooms, hallways, cafeterias, auditoriums and gymnasiums.
Hogan also announced the state had entered a partnership with the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins to dramatically improve screening for the coronavirus variants, which are more contagious but not yet known to produce more severe illness.
In this new partnership, more than 10 percent of the positive tests will be genomically sequenced to track the various virus mutations.
“The increase in sequencing will dramatically increase of chances of identifying these coronavirus variants of concern in all of our communities,” said Dr. Jinlene Chan, the acting deputy health secretary for the Maryland Department of Health. “We anticipate that, as we do more sequencing, we will identify more cases. So, I want to make sure people understand that.”
Maryland has now administered more than 1.1 million doses of the coronavirus vaccine.
In Frederick County, 33,517 first doses and 18,414 second doses have been delivered into arms, according to the county health department.
Hogan announced that a fourth mass vaccination site will open no later than March 11 at the minor league baseball stadium for the Southern Maryland Blue Crabs in Charles County.
The governor said that plans are still being finalized for upcoming mass vaccination sites in western Maryland, closer to Frederick, and on the Eastern Shore.
Hogan said that the state will eventually be administering more vaccine at these mass sites than they are currently doing at roughly 2,300 providers across the state.
“After a long and difficult year, we approach this anniversary [of the first coronavirus case in Maryland], knowing that our early and aggressive actions, the ongoing vigilance of Marylanders and now the availability of safe and effective vaccines are all continuing to bring us closer to a return to normalcy,” the governor said.