As Baltimore City eases some coronavirus restrictions Monday, Mayor Brandon Scott said it is not an opportunity for recklnessness and urged residents to continue to follow COVID-19 guidelines. Image via Facebook Live.

Eligible Marylanders can now schedule a COVID-19 vaccination appointment at M&T Bank Stadium, which will open as a mass vaccination site on Thursday.

But appointment slots and supply of vaccine remains limited, even as the state looks to expand locations and make the process more convenient. Many health officials say it will be months before vaccine supply is able to meet demand.

“The opening of our next state-run mass vaccination site is another milestone toward ending this pandemic,” Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement. “I want to thank all of our partners who have worked to convert M&T Bank Stadium into a mass vaccination site. As supply increases, this site will serve thousands of Marylanders each day.”

Maryland officials on Monday opened a limited number of appointment slots starting Thursday, and will open more on a rolling basis. The Baltimore Sun reported that demand for the slots overwhelmed the registration web site, causing it to shut down.

Between 250 to 500 vaccination appointments will be available at M&T Bank Stadium during the first several days of the “soft launch phase” of the site. Maryland officials plan to provide up to 2,000 vaccinations per day in early March.

People who are included in the Phases 1A, 1B and 1C groups are currently eligible for vaccination. Eligible individuals must complete a new registration specifically for the M&T Bank Stadium mass vaccination site, either by filling out an online form at covidvax.maryland.gov or by calling 855-MD-GOVAX (1-855-634-6829).

Representatives are available by phone seven days a week from 7 a.m. to 10 p.m. to request an appointment. State officials warn that callers may experience long wait times due to large call volume.

Even as the state opens mass vaccination sites such as the Baltimore stadium and Six Flags America amusement park in Prince George’s county, supply remains limited, and frustration is mounting.

Marylanders have continued to report issues with scheduling vaccinations as the state faces a limited supply of the COVID-19 vaccine from the federal government. Some residents have turned to social media to track down an appointment.

Baltimore City Health Commissioner Dr. Letitia Dzirasa on Monday said recent inclement weather has disrupted Maryland’s vaccine supply chain, with the state receiving reduced vaccines from the federal government.

The Baltimore City Health Department did not receive any additional vaccine doses last week due to weather-related challenges. Although a shipment of vaccines arrived this morning, the health department has been advised that additional shipments will be delayed this week, Dzirasa said.

“At this time, vaccine supply remains our greatest limiting factor in providing more vaccinations to residents,” she said.

Maryland officials on Monday reported that 113,758 first doses of the vaccine and 62,494 second doses had been administered in Baltimore City. About 10.4% of Baltimore residents had received the first dose and about 5.5% had received the second dose as of Monday morning.

Statewide, Maryland providers have administered a total of 1,087,086 vaccine doses, with the state now administering an average of 27,604 shots per day.

The mass vaccination site at M&T Bank Stadium will be supported by the University of Maryland Medical System (UMMS), the Maryland Department of Health, the Maryland National Guard, the Maryland Stadium Authority, and the Baltimore Ravens.

“We are proud to continue our collaborative efforts with the state to provide vaccinations for Marylanders who recognize that vaccines provide hope for saving lives and bringing an end to this pandemic,” UMMS CEO Dr. Mohan Suntha said in a statement. “This is another example of how the private and public sectors can join forces to support and protect our residents.”

The state also plans to open mass vaccination sites in eastern, western and southern Maryland.

People can visit covidvax.maryland.gov to search for a nearby vaccination clinic or call 211 for assistance. Vaccinations are by appointment only, and some providers allow people to pre-register.

Baltimore residents age 65 and older can get help with registering for a vaccine appointment by visiting the city’s website or calling the Maryland Access Point (MAP) hotline at 410-396-2273.

More than 20,000 older Baltimoreans have indicated their interest in receiving a vaccine through the MAP interest form, Dzirasa said.

The Baltimore City Health Department’s mobile vaccination clinics have also begun pre-registering and vaccinating older adults who do not have readily available transportation to mass vaccination sites.

Dzirasa said operators of independent living facilities can request a mobile clinic to visit their location at coronavirus.baltimorecity.gov/testing.

In January, Baltimore City partnered with Ascension Saint Agnes Health Center to vaccinate more Baltimore first responders.

As of Feb. 19, Ascension Services has helped vaccinate more than 1,600 first responders, Ascension Saint Agnes CEO Ed Lovern said.

The health care provider has also vaccinated 200 seniors and is scheduled to vaccinate 500 more this week, Lovern added.

Baltimore Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said that more than 1,350 civilian and sworn members of the Baltimore Police Department have received at least their first dose of the vaccine as of Monday morning, representing more than 45% of the department.

Harrison said his son tested positive for COVID-19 in March 2020. Baltimore Fire Chief Niles Ford said he tested positive for the virus in May 2020.

Ford and Harrison said their and their family member’s experiences with contracting COVID-19 encouraged them to get vaccinated. Both men received their first dose in January and their second dose earlier this month.

“It was important for me to get the vaccine and encourage others within my department and even my own family members when they’re eligible to do so for their safety and for the safety of others,” Harrison said.

Dzirasa encouraged everyone to get vaccinated once they are eligible and appointments are available, but she also urged people to continue adhering to coronavirus guidelines, including handwashing; wearing a well-fitted, multi-layered mask over your nose and mouth; and maintaining six feet of distance from people who you do not live with.

She also said people should continue to get tested for COVID-19 if they exhibit symptoms or are potentially exposed to the virus.

Baltimore City’s easing of certain coronavirus restrictions went into effect Monday, including removing its one-hour limit on dining and revising capacity limits.

Mayor Brandon Scott said the decision to relax those restrictions was based on seeing “significant improvement” of several coronavirus metrics.

But Scott warned that residents should not get complacent with following guidelines for reducing the spread of COVID-19.

“That is not an opportunity for folks to be reckless,” he said. “We still want folks to take this very seriously.”

Scott said he and his advisers will continue monitoring the city’s COVID-19 data over the next four weeks before deciding to make any new changes to current restrictions. He added that there is not one single metric goal that they are looking for, rather a collective improvement across the data overall.

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Marcus Dieterle

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at marcus@baltimorefishbowl.com...