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COVID-19 Case Counts Continue To Rise In Baltimore

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Screenshot via Charm TV
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Mayor Brandon Scott speaks during a Wednesday news conference.

New cases of COVID-19 rates and community transmission are continuing to rise in Baltimore City, Mayor Brandon Scott said at a Wednesday news conference, attributing the spikes to the highly contagious delta variant. The city’s case counts and testing positivity rates are up 161% and 115% from four weeks earlier, per the latest health department data.

The city is averaging 87 new cases a day and experiencing substantial community transmission, said Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa.

”Now that even fully vaccinated individuals who contracted COVID-19 can spread the virus as easily as unvaccinated individuals, it remains vital that all residents, regardless of immunization status, continue to practice harm reduction principles to reduce our rates of community transmission,” she said.

That means wearing a mask, washing your hands, keeping your distance from others, getting tested if you experience COVID-19 symptoms and getting vaccinated if you are not already, she said.

Scott also used the news conference to tout his recent announcement of a vaccine mandate program for city employees.

Beginning Oct. 18, Baltimore’s 14,000 employees must be fully vaccinated or be subject to weekly tests for the virus. Those who refuse to disclose their vaccination status to HR officials will be disciplined and face possible firings.

“This is about leading by example, protecting the health of our workforce, residents and their loved ones,” the Democrat said. “I'm confident that this step will complement the actions we've already taken to keep our city safe during this pandemic.”

Employees may opt out of both the vaccine and weekly testing for reasons including medical and religious exemptions. Some states have tightened similar vaccine mandates by eliminating religious exemptions, including New York.

Scott said he may revisit the fine print of the city’s program. “We're constantly analyzing where we are and decisions on whether we go further, whether we stay the same —I'll make those decisions based on the data,” he said.

Senior members of the Scott administration first signaled that they were weighing the vaccine mandate at a Baltimore City Council hearing late last month. There, officials also said they would launch an incentive vaccination incentive program. Shortly afterward, Scott said such a program was not official.

Asked about potential vaccine incentives at Wednesday’s news conference, the mayor said his administration is discussing “all options.”

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.