By CBS Baltimore Staff

BALTIMORE (WJZ) — The Maryland Department of Health reported more than 1,000 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday for the first time in two months.

The agency documented 1,044 infections over the past 24 hours, bringing the total of confirmed cases to 1,023,905 since the pandemic began. The last time the agency reported over 1,000 cases was Feb. 20 with 1,089.

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Additionally, the statewide positivity rate rose to 4.54%, a 0.16% increase since Wednesday and a 300% increase compared to the same time last month (1.43%).

Dr. Chris Thompson, associate biology professor for Loyola University Maryland, said with fewer people getting tested and more relying on at-home test kits, it is difficult to get an accurate reading on the spread of COVID-19.

“I think we’re seeing a lot of underreporting,” Dr. Thompson told WJZ this week.

With fewer people taking health and safety precautions, the professor told WJZ he feared that Maryland could be on the verge of another increase. He said while the new variants don’t generally cause severe illness, there’s a lot we still don’t know.

“There’s a lot of new data coming out about long COVID, and that’s pretty scary,” Thompson said. “There’s some brain inflammation in a good chunk of the population.”

The increases come amid uncertainty over a federal mask mandate for mass transit. At the request of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Justice is appealing a federal judge’s ruling that struck down the mandate.

Despite a CDC recommendation that travelers continue to wear masks, transit agencies have dropped mask requirements on buses, trains and planes.

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Like other metrics, hospitalizations rose overnight by 17, bringing the total number of Maryland patients hospitalized with COVID-19 to 170. That’s a 31.78% increase over the low of 129 hospitalizations reported April 13.

Of those hospitalized, 134 are adults in acute care settings and 27 other adults are in the ICU. Six children are receiving acute care and three more are in the ICU.

The number of COVID-related deaths confirmed in Maryland since the pandemic began now stands at 14,154 after rising by six over the past 24 hours.

Based on the uncertainty surrounding new variants and their potentially long-term effects, Thompson said he would encourage Marylanders to keep up with safety protocols even if they’re not mandatory.

“I would really encourage people to go back to what we know works: wearing a mask, washing your hands, social distancing when you can,” he said.

Nearly 4.6 million Marylanders are fully vaccinated. According to the CDC, 95% of Maryland’s adults have gotten a dose of the vaccine and 91.7% of eligible children have received at least one dose.

Maryland has administered 11.7 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine.

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Of those, roughly 4.8 million are the first dose, 4.25 million are the second dose, 341,000 are single-dose vaccines and another 2.3 million are booster shots.

CBS Baltimore Staff