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City Sees COVID-19 Spike After St. Patrick’s Day, Officials Urge Caution For Easter Gatherings

Mayor Brandon Scott speaks during a March news conference.
Courtesy of the Office of the Mayor
Mayor Brandon Scott speaks during a March news conference.

As Baltimore experiences a post-St. Patrick’s Day surge in COVID-19 rates among young people, city officials are urging residents to protect loved ones from the coronavirus by abiding to CDC gathering guidelines during Easter weekend.

“There is no longer an excuse for ignorance,” Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa said during a Thursday afternoon news conference. “At this point, Baltimore residents are aware of the simple rules that will save lives because public health professionals have been saying them for over a year.”

Baltimore has seen a 143% increase in new COVID-19 cases and a 106% increase in 7-day average positivity rates from four weeks ago. Hospital utilization rates have remained consistent; intensive care units are at 87% capacity while acute care units have increased slightly to 88% capacity.

Dzirasa said the new surge is “different” than ones seen before: Younger city residents, specifically those who are 20 - 29 and 40 - 49, are now leading new COVID-19 cases, while new cases in those 70 and up are the lowest among all age groups. The declining rate among seniors is significant: For more than a year, they consistently experienced the highest rate of city COVID-19 cases.

“What this indicates is that the vaccines work,” Dzirasa said.

As of this week, 25% of all Baltimoreans and 48% of city residents 60 and older have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 14% of all Baltimoreans and 27% of city residents 60 and older are fully vaccinated.

“The new wave of COVID-19 is striking at a time where we are seeing more and more vaccines being distributed in Baltimore City, which has changed the profile of the average COVID-19 hospitalization,” Dzirasa said.

It is vital that Baltimoreans get vaccinated as soon as they are able, the health commissioner said. Gov. Hogan recently announced that all Marylanders will be eligible to receive the vaccine by April 27. The state Department of Health rolled out PrepMod, a vaccine registration portal, in February.

Mayor Brandon Scott announced Thursday the city’s own vaccination registration portal for Baltimoreans age 16 and up. Residents may register for a vaccine appointment on the site; once one becomes available, the city will call or email residents with appointment details

“It's really about building something that's right for our citizens versus getting something out quick,” the Democrat said.

He encouraged residents to exercise caution throughout Easter weekend — particularly younger residents.

“You can get sick too, especially with the new variants that are making younger people sicker than the original variants,” he said. “COVID is real and COVID is still killing people across Baltimore. Don't become a meme of these folks who are out at these parties with no mask or having events and ending up on someone's Instagram feed because you were irresponsible.”

Dzirasa pointed to recent CDC guidance: Only fully vaccinated individuals should gather indoors with other fully vaccinated people without wearing a mask. Unless you have been fully vaccinated, she said, you should not be celebrating holidays in person with those outside of your immediate household.

“We are vaccinating, and every vaccination is a victory in the fight against COVID. But every party, every visit to an unvaccinated friend or family member, every time you leave the house without wearing a mask, you are pushing us one step back,” Dzirasa said.

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.