When Lily Chalkey returned to Frederick County after a semester at college, it was a bit of a culture shock. At her small college, she was subjected to many rules and regulations to protect the students. Over the course of the few months she was on campus, there were only nine positive coronavirus cases.
Returning home to Frederick and seeing the cases spike made her consider why there weren’t more stringent regulations in place, besides some capacity limits at certain businesses.
“That’s definitely on the scarier side,” she said of the soaring case numbers as she walked along Carroll Creek Monday.
Over the weekend, Frederick County reported 51 hospitalizations due to COVID-19, its highest number yet, surpassing a day in November when there were 41. Frederick Health Hospital has 239 total beds, meaning it was using 21 percent of its beds for COVID patients this weekend.
Hospitalizations were down slightly, with the Frederick County Health Department reporting 46 hospitalizations on Monday. It also reported 133 new cases of COVID-19, bringing the county’s total to 7,852.
Frederick County has averaged 140 new cases of COVID-19 per day during the first week of December. Meanwhile, the average number of new cases per day during the month of November was 67.
“We are seeing so many cases now that it seems like every business is dealing with an employee or customer who’s tested positive for COVID-19,” Dr. Barbara Brookmyer wrote in an email. “More and more people probably know someone who’s tested positive personally.”
The local spike coincides with the nationwide surge of coronavirus cases. Maryland reported 2,302 new cases on Monday and 20 deaths. Gov. Larry Hogan (R) has instituted some rules in the last month, including cutting restaurant capacity from 75 to 50 percent and enforcing a 10 p.m. shutdown for bars and eateries. There is also still a statewide mask mandate, unlike many other states.
Chalkey wonders why the local and federal governments are not doing more now that the virus is surging again. She said she felt that everything shut down in the spring, but now everybody is trying to hold onto what “normal” they have.
The Frederick County Health Board did institute new changes, including fines for not complying with rules and a 25-person limit on events. But those changes also stated that Brookmyer could enforce more rules once the county surpassed 20 infections for every 100,000 people over a seven-day rolling period. But that language was deleted by a Board of Health vote on Nov. 24.
The county is now reporting 52 cases per 100,000 people.
Brookmyer said that she has no plans on enacting new restrictions.
“We are currently working on making sure our community is aware of and following the regulations that are in place,” she wrote.
Many people are still against new measures, as evidenced by the dozens of community members who spoke out against more restrictions at that Nov. 24 meeting.
Brookmyer continued to stress the importance of social distancing, mask wearing and hand washing.
“It’s becoming more apparent every day just how much virus is circulating in our community, so I hope everyone is taking the situation seriously as some of the people who become infected will experience complications,” Brookmyer wrote. “And it is not always predictable who will experience complications in the short term or the long term.”
Tom Sweitzer knows how difficult those complications can be. Sweitzer, who was visiting Frederick on Monday from Middleburg, Virginia, said he was hospitalized by the coronavirus in July.
He said he occasionally goes out to eat and sees a pod of about seven people. Sweitzer said he’s careful with regards to the virus, but with the numbers rising in both Maryland and Virginia, he’s concerned “more now than ever before.”
Brookmyer said this holiday season might look different from others, but it’s important to remain vigilant.
“With the holidays coming up, it would be best for people not to travel or gather with people outside their households,” she wrote. “It’s a sacrifice of our traditions, but it could save lives.”