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March 26, 2021

Hope superspreader: Western Maryland mass vaccination site opens

When he signed up for the Maryland National Guard, Spc. Judah Metz did not foresee that he would help out with a mass vaccination site inside a former furniture store.

But on Thursday, the Boonsboro High School class of 2013 graduate was back in his old stomping grounds as the state opened its sixth COVID-19 mass vaccination site in the old Wolf’s furniture store at Hagerstown Premium Outlets.

“I never thought I would be a part of something like this when I joined the military, so it feels good being able to give back,” Metz said.

Spc. Charles Crouch, who also grew up in the area, said it was important for him and Metz to be able to serve in a community they know, love and respect.

“It’s great being able to see faces I recognize coming in and getting vaccinated and just keeping the community safe,” he said.

Both Metz and Crouch said by Thursday afternoon, the first day of operation was going smoothly — due in large part to the cooperation between the numerous organizations, including the Maryland National Guard, the state and county health departments, and local groups such as Meritus Health.

They were also encouraged by visits from Gov. Larry Hogan, U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-6th; and Brig. Gen. Janeen Birckhead acknowledging the work that went into the site and what it will mean for Western Maryland.

1st Sgt. Sarah McIver is the senior officer in charge of the 40 Maryland National Guard members at the Hagerstown site, which is the first all-female led site out of the five sites where the group is present.

McIver said the soldiers are in charge of traffic control, greeting patients as they arrive, observing patients for any adverse reactions following their vaccinations, running vaccines from the preparation area to the tables and other nonclinical support.

Four National Guard members can also help vaccinate, and four helped with medical administration support, she said.

McIver said the site’s first day was going well and was on target to do 750 vaccines with the expectation of administering 11,000 vaccines this week.

“It’s been great. Everyone’s been happy to be here,” McIver said. “We’re proud to serve the community and partner with the Maryland Department of Health and civilian authorities. Whatever we can do to help the citizens of Maryland and the governor’s mission, we’re here to do.”

After touring the site, Hogan praised the federal, state, local and private partnerships that made the effort possible.

Earlier this week, the governor announced Maryland will open a half-dozen new mass vaccination sites in April in the state’s central and Capital regions, which are also home to the state’s most populous counties.

Hogan said Thursday that the state will be able to go from administering 220,000 to close 340,000 vaccine doses in the next week, which includes 34,000 of the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

He said he hoped that with the increases in doses and infrastructure set up statewide to return to a level of “normalcy” by Memorial Day, but stressed the potential danger of several emerging virus variants.

“It’s a race between vaccines and variants, and so the faster we can get them in arms, the safer we’re all going to be,” Hogan said. “We’re going to ramp it up until everyone is done.”

Trone said the pandemic showed the importance of medical research and the need to think about future generations.

Maulik Joshi, president and CEO of Meritus Health, said the hospital was proud to be the clinical partner at the site, and more than 100 Meritus employees were on hand to “vaccinate as many people as possible as fast as possible.”

Joshi said that 90 days ago, Washington County had nearly a 20% positivity rate with around 100 people hospitalized for COVID-19. The week before New Year’s Day, he said, about 3,000 cars came through the hospital’s testing site.

Also during that time, more than 40,000 vaccine doses were distributed and two-thirds of all county seniors were vaccinated, he said.

The new mass vaccination site will will operate by appointment only. Walk-ins will not be accepted, according to state officials. 

Eligible Marylanders can pre-register for a vaccination at one of the state’s mass vaccination sites at coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine or by calling the state’s COVID-19 vaccination support center at 855-MD-GOVAX (855-634-6829).