BALTIMORE (WJZ) -- Fewer than 1,000 Marylanders are hospitalized with COVID-19 for the first time in roughly two months, according to data released Thursday by the Maryland Department of Health.
Citing that "dramatically improved" metric, among other data, Gov. Larry Hogan wrote a letter to the Maryland State Board of Education, calling for the panel to withdraw its policy requiring students and staff to wear masks in school.
"A growing number of medical professionals, parents, and bipartisan state officials throughout the nation are calling for an end to school mask requirements," Hogan wrote. "In light of dramatic improvements to our health metrics and the widespread availability of vaccines, I am calling on you to take action to rescind this policy."
Under the existing policy, schools can lift their mask mandates if they meet certain "off-ramp" requirements—if 80% of the county's population is vaccinated, if 80% of the school's students and staff are vaccinated or if the county's transmission rate is "low" or "moderate" for 14 consecutive days.
In a statement, the board said there was optimism about the state's improving numbers but noted there are "research-based off-ramps" in place for school systems to lift mask mandates.
"The State Board has and continues to rely upon science, research, and guidance from public health experts, including the CDC and the Maryland Department of Health in its efforts to ensure schools remain safely open," the board said. "We look forward to the day when this dark COVID cloud has been mitigated. We will continue to listen and work with our State and local partners in continuing this work."
Districts can remove mask mandates if 80% of the county is vaccinated or if the county's transmission rate is "low" or "moderate" for two straight weeks.
With hospitalizations falling by 58, the number of COVID-19 patients in Maryland hospitals stands at 986. That's down more than 71% from Jan. 11 when the state's hospitalizations peaked at 3,462, and it's the fewest hospitalizations since Dec. 8 when 984 were recorded.
The statewide positivity rate is 5.12%, a 0.27% decrease compared to Wednesday's mark. That metric represents an 82% drop since the percentage of people testing positive for COVID-19 flirted with 30% on Jan. 5.
Maryland added 1,100 more COVID-19 cases over the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of confirmed cases statewide to 967,917 since the pandemic began.
With the statewide death toll rising by 37 over the last 24 hours, a total of 13,605 people in Maryland have died of COVID-19 since the outset of the pandemic.
The new figures come two days after Maryland celebrated a vaccine milestone: 95% of Maryland adults age 18 and over have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine. When you factor in children age 5 and older, 89.5% of the population has gotten at least one shot.
Gov. Hogan has proclaimed this week Healthcare Heroes Appreciation Week and is asking Marylanders to show their gratitude for frontline healthcare workers' tireless efforts throughout the pandemic.
Maryland recently emerged from a 30-day state of emergency issued by Hogan in response to elevated hospitalizations and infections that pushed many hospitals to capacity levels. Yet healthcare leaders say hospitals still face nursing shortages.
Over the past few weeks, Hogan also issued executive orders aimed at shoring up workforces in nursing homes, hospitals and emergency medical services.
Of those currently hospitalized with COVID-19 in Maryland, 790 are adults in acute care and 181 are adults in intensive care. Thirteen children are in acute care and two more are in the ICU, state data show.
There are 4,426,122 Marylanders fully vaccinated and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The state has administered 11,175,070 million doses of the vaccine.
Of those, 4,659,916 are first doses, 2,738 in the last 24 hours. Another 4,093,003 are second doses, 3,716 in the past day. A total of 333,119 Marylanders have gotten the Johnson & Johnson vaccine,158 in the past day.
The state has administered 2,089,032 boosters, 6,996 in the past 24 hours.
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