It will likely be at least six to eight months longer before a coronavirus vaccine can be distributed in a best-case scenario, leading Maryland health officials and lawmakers said Wednesday as they make plans for the state.
Senate President Bill Ferguson said he spoke on Tuesday with one of the principal investigators at Johns Hopkins University who is working on a vaccine now in its third phase. While there has been remarkable progress, Ferguson said the logistics that go into distributing a vaccine are "enormous and herculean.”
“I think it’s really important that we keep that in mind moving forward as we make decisions about the future of Maryland — that even with an amazing light-speed approval, it is still six to eight months from that point until we’ll start to see the impact on herd immunity overall, so there is time to go in this ballgame," Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, said during a meeting of a legislative panel on the coronavirus.
Robert Neall, Maryland's health secretary, emphasized that people need to be prepared to use available tools like masks and handwashing well into next year. He also emphasized that the state could face a challenging time with the upcoming flu season. For the next six or eight months, Neall said health officials will be using “vintage 1918 tactics” to coexist with the virus, referring to the deadly flu pandemic that occurred more than 100 years ago.
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“Coexisting and trying to find ways to successfully pursue life and keep the population safe is the job we have, I think, for the next year, year and a half," Neall said. "It will certainly get easier if we do get a vaccine in some quantity, but the tactics that we are using now — and will use in the future — will still be necessary, because we’re not going to be able to vaccinate everyone.”
Dr. Jinlene Chan, Maryland's deputy health secretary, said the state is pushing out a statewide messaging campaign on the benefits of wearing masks. She said the state is working with federal officials to accelerate the delivery of the vaccine.
Maryland has conducted about 2.2 million tests for the coronavirus, with more than 20,000 tests being done a day, Neall said. He also told lawmakers that the state has distributed more than 78 million pieces of personal protection equipment, and requests are still being met, including supplies for schools and the upcoming elections.
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Neall said the state has identified about 6,700 beds in case of a surge in cases. Maryland has about 347 hospital beds now occupied by coronavirus patients — compared to a high of 1,711 at the end of April, said Dennis Schrader, the health department's chief operating officer. Schrader said about 86% of hospitals have reached pre-COVID-19 capacity.
Maryland reported 117,888 confirmed cases of the virus on Wednesday, an increase of 643 cases from the previous day. The state has confirmed a total of 3,712 deaths as of Wednesday, up six deaths from Tuesday.