One of the keys to containing the spread of the virus is forming strategic partnerships to create mobile testing sites in critical hotspots. (Courtesy Photo)

By Stephen Janis
Special to the AFRO

Baltimore often bears the brunt of racking up dubious statistics when it comes to crime rates, poverty, and unemployment.

But as the COVID-19 crisis has unfolded, the city has outpaced the state in terms of beating back infections caused by the virus, with both a lower positivity rate and slower spread of new cases than the surrounding jurisdictions. 

According to the Maryland State Health department since the beginning of September, Baltimore’s 7-day rolling positivity rate has dipped below three percent, often hovering around two percent.    

Meanwhile the statewide positivity rate has stayed firmly above 3 percent.

The distinction matters, health experts say.  A lower positivity rate means the city is doing enough testing, and more importantly, getting a handle on neighborhoods that need attention.   

“I think Baltimore’s experience relative to others is an under-covered story,” said Dr. Joshua Sharfstein, the vice dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement for Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  

“I would include on the list of reasons, consistent messaging from elected officials, a strong response at the community level by community organizations, and the public-private partnership established by the city with John Hopkins and the University of Maryland.”

Shafrstein notes that the city has a one-of-kind “isolation” center housed at the Lord Baltimore Hotel.   The facility allows residents who can’t isolate safely at home to stay until they are clear of the virus. 

But city officials also cite a concerted effort to ensure basic necessities which allowed people to stay inside as another critical factor.  

“We’ve delivered more than five million meals to residents during the pandemic, so we were able to cover one of those basic needs to allow people stay home,” said Baltimore Health Department Spokesman Adam Abadir. 

The city has partnered with Johns Hopkins to deploy mobile testing sites to critical hotspots.  That strategy has allowed health officials to get a handle on clusters of infections and allow residents to obtain test results without leaving their neighborhood. 

“If there is a cluster, we deploy a testing service to that area.  Our partners like Johns Hopkins have really stepped up to help us get testing to people who need it,” he said.

Mayor Jack Young has also been willing to pull back on re-opening when needed.  

After the city experienced a slight increase in cases in early August, Mayor Young rolled back in person dinning for several weeks.  He also has been slower to allow city businesses and restaurants to reopen after the state moved ahead with more aggressive plans.

Young said he simply listened to health experts.

“I think the city’s success is attributed to my health Commissioner Dr. Lietta Dzarisa,” Young told the AFRO.  “The health professionals look at the data and ultimately decide what we do.” 

Despite the recent success, the Coronavirus has inflicted a heavy toll on the city.   Since the onset of the pandemic, the city roughly 15,280 city residents have tested positive and 464 people have died due to the virus. 

Still, city officials say they hope that policies put in place now bode well for the future.

“We try to reach people where they,” Abadir said.  “That is the key.”