Former Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Dr. Joshua Sharfstein warned Marylanders not to let their guards down this fall as it is still possible that the Delta variant could hit the state hard.
“I do think that as we head into fall it is important for Maryland to keep its guard up because we did not have a big Delta surge and there may be still a large number of people who are susceptible,” Sharfstein told MarylandReporter.com.
Sharfstein added: “I think it is important for all of us to be vigilant. But I do not think that there is a reason to panic.”
Sharfstein said that while the confluence of the pandemic and flu season is a cause for concern, the state’s hospitals are unlikely to become overburdened as statistical models have shown that they are well-equipped to handle a potential surge in patients.
And Sharfstein said he is not surprised that the state’s positivity rate is below 4%, even with many large entertainment gatherings taking place this time of year.
“A lot of the sports are outside and it is hard to transmit the virus outside. I think that is protected. Maryland overall has a pretty high vaccination rate. And so the more people that are vaccinated, the less likely it is that the virus will be passed around.”
Sharfstein’s premise is supported by a recent peer-reviewed study published in JAMA that found that outdoor football games with “limited in-person attendance” and mask-compliant audiences were not linked with an increase in COVID-19 cases in the communities in which the games were held.
Del. Brian Chisholm, R-Anne Arundel, who sits on the Health and Government Operations Committee, said medical evidence seems to suggest that the risk of contracting COVID-19 at an outdoor event is almost non-existent.
“It has been said from the beginning that it is very very difficult to pass this virus on in outdoor settings. And I think that still holds true today.”
Chisholm relayed that he recently attended two football games with about 40,000 people in attendance.
The delegate attributed the state’s declining positivity rate to both high vaccination rates and natural immunity.
“I think we have outbreaks when we force everybody to stay home in a confined area where there is not such good airflow. When you stay home and are sedentary your body is not as strong as when you are out and walking around. So I am not surprised that (the positivity rate) is low.”
Sen. Cheryl Kagan, D-Montgomery, who is vice-chair of the Education, Health, and Environmental Affairs Committee, said she hopes the state’s declining positivity rate is an indication that Maryland is finally turning the tide against the virus.
“I have my fingers and toes crossed that Maryland is slowly working toward a day when we can say we are safely past Covid. It has been a long journey with enormous economic and health care challenges. But I am hopeful that if unvaccinated people will look out for themselves, their families, and the community- that we might be able to put this pandemic behind us.”
However, like Sharfstein, Kagan said that she too is concerned about the possibility of a fall surge.
“There is so much that we do not know about this disease, which is why the aspects that we can control, like getting vaccinated and wearing masks-is critical for us protecting ourselves and others and moving forward.”
There are 545,028 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Monday morning, according to the Department of Health, and 10,370 people in Maryland have died from the virus. The state’s positivity rate is 3.73%, which is well within CDC recommended guidelines for containment. Maryland has conducted more than 13.4 million COVID-19 tests.
About 85% of the state’s population has had at least one dose of the vaccine, according to the Department, and 60% are fully vaccinated.