Did Baltimore go too far in tackling COVID-19? – Community News
Covid-19

Did Baltimore go too far in tackling COVID-19?

Baltimore is imposing a vaccination requirement on city employees, but it has not followed New York, San Francisco and Seattle in ordering restaurants, theaters and other businesses to require a vaccination certificate for admission.

At the same time, there are those who say it has gone too far.

The city firefighters’ union, like many other public worker unions across the country, opposes the vaccine mandate.

In a letter to Mayor Brandon Scott over the summer, the union president claimed the mandate should have been negotiated between the union and the city.

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Michael Ollove

Credit: Contributed

Michael Ollove
caption

Michael Ollove

Credit: Contributed

Credit: Contributed

The Maryland Restaurant Association went to court last year in a failed attempt to overturn the city’s indoor dining ban, which has since been repealed.

While a September report from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which compared Baltimore’s COVID-19 experience with 325 communities with similar demographics, including race and ethnicity, employment and health insurance, the high COVID-19 vaccination rate of Baltimore compared to comparable areas, the percentage of 56% of Baltimoreans who are fully vaccinated is 9 percentage points behind the statewide percentage in Maryland.

But it’s hard to argue that Baltimore hasn’t aggressively attacked the pandemic.

It has been more cautious than the state in reopening businesses and schools and easing mask requirements.

Maryland Governor Larry Hogan did not reinstate a new mask mandate as the delta variant sparked a dangerous new wave, but the Baltimore mayor quickly issued an order requiring masks in all indoor environments.

Partnerships have played a huge part in Baltimore’s success.

The city has partnered with the health systems of Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland, other Baltimore hospitals, foundations, the local chapters of the NAACP and CASA, the Immigrant Advocacy Organization, and many local churches and community organizations.

Representatives from those groups have met regularly with Baltimore’s health commissioner or her staff to map out strategy and responses. They tackled tasks including creating detailed data dashboards, COVID-19 testing, contact tracing, vaccines, communication and identification and outreach of vulnerable populations.

CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield helped establish a COVID-19 call center that provided information about the pandemic and connected callers suspected of being infected with clinicians from Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland health systems.

Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland helped the city create a state-of-the-art COVID-19 dashboard with detailed information about the disease’s progress and the city’s vaccine uptake. Much of the data is broken down by race, ethnicity, and age.

In partnership with the city and state, the health systems at the University of Maryland and Johns Hopkins quickly set up a field hospital at the Baltimore Convention Center to treat overflow COVID-19 patients, conduct COVID-19 testing, and eventually deliver shots. to serve.

Meanwhile, the city developed a communications and dispatch network to coordinate COVID-19 cases to try to ensure no hospitals were overrun with cases.

Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland health systems operated mobile testing and vaccination units, deployed by the city in particularly vulnerable areas. The city transformed the 100-year-old Lord Baltimore Hotel, closed due to the pandemic, into a residence where the homeless and others could be safely quarantined. The University of Maryland Medical System provides on-site clinical services.

When the crisis started, the city only had about 15 contact tracers. With support from the Rockefeller Foundation, the Open Society Institute-Baltimore foundation, and the Johns Hopkins Health System, the health department created an army of about 250 contact tracers, many of them unemployed or on leave due to the pandemic.

The city recruited people from the worst affected neighborhoods to fill those jobs.

Even before vaccinations became available late last year, the city identified groups who were likely the most difficult to convince to get their injections, said Dr. Letitia Dzirasa, Baltimore’s health commissioner.

They include minorities and immigrant communities, youth and Orthodox Jews.

“We knew we would be trusted in some cases and not in others, so we had to identify trusted community members as our ambassadors for those communities,” she said.

With philanthropic partners, the city developed advanced social media, especially aimed at young people.

Those who have worked on Baltimore’s pandemic response think other places can learn from the city’s community-wide response to COVID-19.

Michael Ollove writes for Stateline, an initiative of The Pew Charitable Trusts. This story is republished through the Solutions Journalism Network.