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Concern grows about Omicron COVID variant in Maryland as positivity rate jumps above 5%

By Mike Hellgren

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    BALTIMORE, Maryland (WJZ) — In just 24 hours, 42 more people have been hospitalized in Maryland with Covid-19, and Maryland’s positivity rate has once again risen above 5 percent.

The state is experiencing a troubling rise in key coronavirus metrics even before any cases of the new omicron variant have been detected here. Doctors say it may only be a matter of time before the strain is confirmed in Maryland.

“With the way that we test, we are about two weeks behind when we find out a variant is in a particular place—so it’s almost for sure that it’s in the United States. It’s probably in Maryland. It’s probably everywhere,” said Dr. Christopher Thompson with Loyola University Maryland. “It’s not something to panic about. It’s not something to change your whole life about, but it is something to think about and be concerned about.”

Dr. Thompson fears Marylanders have become complacent. “I see a lot fewer people wearing masks when they’re out in public. Between our behavioral changes and the changes in our vaccine protection waning, we’re starting to see an increase in the numbers. And it is troubling, especially with the holidays coming up and with colder weather where more people are gathering inside. It’s concerning.”

Omicron has more than 50 mutations and more than 30 in the spike protein, the part of the virus that causes the infection.

“We don’t know much about this virus at all. We know that it has a lot more mutations and a lot of those are in the spike protein—the part that we hear about that actually sticks to our cells and makes it infectious,” Dr. Thompson told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren. “We don’t know if it causes a more severe disease. We don’t know if it’s more transmissible. We don’t know if it’s going to lead to increases in death. We don’t know if the vaccines are just as protective. There’s a lot we don’t know.”

Governor Hogan said Maryland has no plans to impose any new restrictions. “We’re not shutting down the economy,” Hogan told WJZ. “We’ve got to get our people boosted and vaccinated.” He plans to hold a news briefing on Covid-19 Wednesday at 2 p.m.

Hogan’s office also provided new numbers on how many children ages 5 to 11 have been vaccinated: 115,514 or 22.2 percent of eligible children in that age group.

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