Maryland To Launch A Centralized Vaccine Registration System For Mass Clinics

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After weeks of criticism of its decentralized vaccine distribution, Maryland will launch a single registration system for appointments at the state’s mass vaccination sites, which officials say will reduce competition for limited doses. The centralized system falls short of what the state’s federal delegation and many local leaders have requested, because it applies only to a limited number of locations. It will not automatically replace individual scheduling systems for local health departments, hospitals, pharmacies and health clinics that have so far distributed the vast majority of vaccine doses in Maryland. Local health departments may choose to opt in to the centralized system. “We expect that establishing a preregistration system will improve the user experience and better prepare for the day when supplies are very, very abundant,” acting health secretary Dennis Schrader told state senators during an oversight hearing Monday afternoon. Schrader also said the state is close to upgrading its scheduling system, PrepMod, so that people can no longer share links to access coveted appointments to be inoculated. That’s been an issue in places such as Montgomery County, where officials spent hours over the weekend canceling vaccine appointments made at county clinics by nonresidents who obtained the registration link. “My team had to do a lot of work on Saturday to undo that damage,” said Raymond Crowel, head of the county’s health and human services department. Montgomery County Council Vice President Gabe Albornoz (D-At Large) said the registration system made it possible for people who legitimately received registration links to share them with non-county residents, “taking appointments away” from priority groups such as health-care workers and seniors 75 and older. County officials also warned that legitimate appointments could be rescheduled because severe winter weather has delayed the distribution of vaccine doses throughout the Washington region and the nation. Crowel said Montgomery’s government-run clinics have about 2,400 doses left to administer through Tuesday. Other jurisdictions also have seen people obtaining registration links to sign up for vaccine clinics for which they are not eligible. A Prince William County schools official said Monday that some Washington-area residents signed up for a vaccination clinic meant for school employees last month at Unity Reed High School in Manassas. A registration link for that event that was sent to the county school system’s nearly 12,000 employees was shared with an unknown number of people who don’t work there, School Board Chair Babur Lateef said in an interview. Several people who couldn’t produce a school ID were still allowed to receive a vaccination, he said. Lateef said people were not turned away because clinicians did not want to risk wasting doses and wanted to avoid a hostile reaction by refusing to vaccinate someone with an appointment, even if they were not eligible. “Some folks may have gotten through the cracks,” Lateef said. He added that “it’s not a massive problem” but could not say how many non-employees had gotten vaccinated. A county schools spokesperson did not immediately respond to messages seeking comment Monday. Novant UVA Health System, which administered the doses, said it couldn’t tell how many people who were ineligible received doses at the clinic. In a statement, a spokesperson said the health system had no mechanism for validating employment, although physical school IDs were checked at the clinic. Meanwhile, the first known case of the more-contagious coronavirus variant first identified in Britain was discovered in an inmate at the Jessup correctional facility in Maryland on Friday, according to Maryland Public Safety and Correctional Services, prompting state officials to test all inmates and staff members, conduct comprehensive contact tracing, institute double-mask mandates and isolate movements. The variant, which has been found to be more contagious than the original form of the virus, already has been detected elsewhere in Maryland, as well as in D.C. and Virginia. A Maryland moratorium on new residential foreclosures that was set to expire on Feb. 28 was extended through March 31, the state Department of Labor said Monday. Across the Washington region, infection numbers continued to dip. Maryland reported 611 new cases and 17 deaths, D.C. reported 107 new cases and no deaths, and Virginia reported 1,155 new cases and 155 deaths. The Virginia Department of Health said the state’s death count on Monday appeared artificially high because it reflected a backlog of previously unreported deaths. The District reached a milestone on Monday — the first time since Nov. 9 that the city’s calculation of new daily cases fell below 15 cases per 100,000 people, the level at which the health department says it is safe for the city to be in a “Phase 2” reopening stance. For months, the city has kept most Phase 2 activities, such as indoor dining and nail salons, open despite a case rate and other metrics that were at times far above the benchmark. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser (D) sounded a note of caution about the falling case rate, though. “None of us wants to let ourselves think that we’re out of this,” she said. D.C. Health Director LaQuandra Nesbitt noted that the case rate might have decreased not only because fewer people are getting the virus, but also because fewer people are getting tested to confirm they have it. The number of tests per capita conducted weekly in the District has fallen by more than half from its late-November peak and was particularly low last week because of snow that temporarily closed some testing sites. Similar trends can be seen elsewhere. According to Maryland’s website, daily testing volume has dropped from about 35,000 in December to 22,000 this week, though the test positivity rate has also steadily dropped. “Testing is how we track the spread of the virus,” said Crowel, the Montgomery health official. “If people don’t get tested, we don’t know where the virus is headed next.” D.C. is nearing a grim milestone: Another five deaths from the virus would put the number killed by the coronavirus in the city at 1,000. With the national death toll around 500,000, Washington National Cathedral marked the lives lost by tolling its funeral bell 500 times on Monday.

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