ANNAPOLIS — Employees of Maryland hospitals and nursing homes are now required to show proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or undergo regular screening and testing. That includes not just those who provide direct patient care but administrative staff as well.
Gov. Larry Hogan made his latest announcement in the fight against the coronavirus on Aug. 18 and later that day President Joe Biden said the vaccine will be required for nursing homes across the country if they receive Medicare or Medicaid. New regulations on that could be available as soon as next month.
"Every nursing employee will be required to show proof of vaccination," the governor said. "If they are unable to they will required to submit to regular ongoing COVID screening and testing." He expressed concern especially about the delta variant increasing infections among staff in the state’s 227 nursing homes.
The Maryland Department of Health monitors vaccination rates and lists facilities in the Top 10 and Bottom 10 — which includes the Alice Byrd Tawes Nursing Home in Crisfield with 52% vaccinated as of the Aug. 16 report.
Also in the Bottom 10 was Snow Hill Nursing Home at 58%. There was no report from Salisbury Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.
Gov. Hogan said nursing homes that fail to comply with the new mandate will face harsher enforcement action to include a doubling of fines and increased civil penalties.
"Some continue to have far too many unvaccinated healthcare workers needlessly exposing their vulnerable patients" to COVID-19 and the delta variant, he said. "Eight full months after vaccines have been available to healthcare workers, this is simply not acceptable."
Peninsula Regional Health System, renamed TidalHealth last September, acquired the former McCready Foundation and its nursing home one month before the pandemic hit last year. TidalHealth does not require employees across its system to be vaccinated although it is strongly encouraged and available.
In a statement about the Tawes Nursing Home vaccination rate, TidalHealth spokesman Roger Follebout said it "appreciates and supports Gov. Hogan’s commitment to safety of staff and residents at Maryland nursing homes." However, the data used for the Tawes Nursing Home at 52% is "outdated."
"While TidalHealth has not made it a practice of providing vaccination rates for our healthcare team, it is significantly higher at Tawes than what the Governor reported, regular testing continues and additional staff there are being vaccinated."
If the federal government follows through on its vaccination mandate, TidalHealth "will comply," Mr. Follebout said.
Since the onset of the pandemic in March 2020 the Tawes Nursing Home has reported 42 staff and 36 residents testing positive, with two resident deaths.
Those who are vaccinated may need a booster shot and Gov. Hogan is urging the Biden administration to make the third dose available immediately to seniors and nursing home residents. A pilot program will test 500 nursing home residents to determine their antibody level, and provide "critical data" on the need for booster shots.
At the time of the governor’s announcement less than 39% of Somerset County residents had been fully vaccinated and under 44% have received at least one dose of a two-dose vaccine, putting the county last among Maryland jurisdictions.
While the percentages are better for those 65 or over (75% fully vaccinated, 80% having received at least one jab) that was still the fourth lowest in the state with Allegany County, Baltimore City and Garrett County at the bottom.
The daily positivity percentage for the state was 5.04% while Somerset County was 4.92%. There were 2743 cases countywide with 42 dying from the virus. The 7-day moving average case rate per 100,000 was 17.85 for Somerset and 15.42 statewide.
Gov. Hogan said coronavirus response "has evolved from the urgent crisis state of emergency phase to now becoming a part of the ongoing day-to-day long-term response of our state health operations."
"We are not at the point where we need to mandate vaccines for the broader audience," Gov. Hogan said, and he is not considering a mask mandate. He urged the federal government to get the vaccines now available approved by the FDA and to work on approving a vaccine for children ages 5-11.
According to Dr. Mohan Suntha, president and CEO of the University System of Maryland, UM hospitals and Johns Hopkins Hospital "together took the step of requiring vaccination of our workforce" in June.
"We have this responsibility that comes with the social compact that is healthcare," calling the vaccine "the most effective tool in the arsenal" against COVID-19.