Maryland reached another record-high for coronavirus-related hospitalizations on Wednesday as the omicron variant of the virus continues to spread rapidly.
Approximately 61 people were admitted to local hospitals over the most recent 24-hour period, bringing the current total to 3,118, the one-day high since the pandemic’s outset in early 2020, according to the state health department.
Health Secretary Dennis Schrader said that number could possibly hit 5,000 in the next four to six weeks.
Of the roughly 5,500 Maryland residents admitted to local hospitals with COVID-19 in December, 62% hadn’t gotten a vaccination, Schrader said. Unvaccinated individuals also made up about 63% of the coronavirus-related deaths recorded last month.
As of Wednesday, about 800,000 residents eligible for vaccination have yet to get one — approximately 434,000 of whom are children, he said.
“The unvaccinated have really pushed our hospital systems and our health care heroes to the brink,” Schrader told a Senate vaccine work group on Wednesday. “We have all the tools, resources and strategies in place to protect ourselves and every Marylander, but we need to ask everyone to exercise common sense and take precautions to stay out the hospital.”
The Maryland Hospital Association offered similar advice, tweeting that hospitals are nearly full and emergency departments “are stretched incredibly thin.”
The organization laid out this strategy for patients:
• Primary care: Call or see your provider for your regular medical problems or most urgent needs. • Urgent care: Go for common issues generally needing to be treated, if your primary care provider is not available. • Telehealth: Call/video to address non-urgent health concerns. • Hospital emergency department: Go only for serious life- and limb-threatening conditions.
In terms of vaccinations, at least 92% of those 18 and older in Maryland have received at least one dose of the vaccine.
Schrader said only 34% of children ages 5 to 11 have received at least one shot.
Sen. Jim Rosapepe (D-District 21) of College Park suggested, based on an opinion from the state attorney general, for local school systems to implement coronavirus vaccine mandates similar to other vaccinations already required for children to enroll in school.
“I’m stunned why it has been so hard to get the little kids vaccinated. Something’s got to change here,” he said.
Schrader pointed out that Gov. Larry Hogan implemented a 30-day state of emergency Tuesday that allows the state health department to authorize nursing graduates to work at any health care facility, alleviate staff shortages and transfer patients to other locations when necessary.
Though Hogan didn’t institute a statewide mask mandate within the executive order, local jurisdictions are authorized to implement their own.
That didn’t satisfy Democratic Sen. Clarence Lam, a physician who represents portions of Baltimore and Howard counties.
Approximately 49 people died from COVID-19 in the most recent 24-hour period, raising the state’s death toll to 11,755 since the pandemic began.
“How many more Marylanders must become hospitalized or die before we reinstate a full mask mandate here in the state?” Lam asked Schrader.
Schrader said it will take education and “a culture change” for all residents to get used to wearing masks every day.
“By persuading people and being patient, I think we will change the culture over time,” he said.
“With all due respect, we’re in the middle of a pandemic,” Lam replied. “Our hospitals are being flooded out right now. I don’t think we have the time to wait on changing culture. The time is now to really look at putting in place a requirement for this to be able to happen.”