With a holiday weekend approaching, Frederick County Executive Jan Gardner sounded alarms Thursday about rising COVID-19 metrics.
“This is not a time for people to relax,” Gardner (D) said while wearing two masks at her weekly public information briefing at Winchester Hall about the county’s pandemic response.
Fearing a potential fourth wave of the novel coronavirus as people begin to gather with family and friends and possibly in churches for Easter, Gardner said it was as critical as ever to follow mitigation strategies such as mask-wearing, hand-washing and physical distancing, even as the county’s vaccination effort continues to gain steam.
The seven-day rolling positivity rate was reported to be 6.24 percent Thursday by the Maryland Department of Health. That is as high as it has been since early February at the tail end of the third surge.
Meanwhile, the number of patients in the 19-bed intensive-care unit at Frederick Health Hospital almost doubled in the past 24 hours to seven, a development Gardner said had caught her eye.
“We are going in the wrong direction, and it’s concerning,” she said.
Roughly 400 cases of COVID-19 were reported in Frederick County over the past week, bringing the overall number of confirmed cases to 18,252. On Thursday, there were 69 new cases in the county, which Gardner called “a significant change in the wrong direction.”
She said modeling shows the county could have an additional 350 cases by Monday.
Asked if reimposing restrictions was possible to help curb the spread, Gardner said, “That’s a conversation that has yet to be had.” She noted that she would likely have to go back to the Frederick County Board of Health in order to do that. She said it’s typically more effective when restrictions are imposed at the state level by the governor.
During his Thursday afternoon press conference on the virus, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) said the state is in a race between the vaccine and the COVID variants. He urged caution but made no hint that any further restrictions were coming.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” he said. “The virus is still very much with us.”
When asked what was fueling the recent surge, Dr. Barbara Brookmyer, the county health officer, said, “People being in close proximity in shared air space for a period of time that allows for the transmission. It’s that simple. The biology hasn’t changed, and the physics hasn’t changed.”
Brookmyer noted there were four waves with the 1918 flu pandemic, and she was worried that the recent spike in COVID cases and rising hospitalizations signified the beginning of the fourth with the coronavirus. She hoped it would not be as severe as the third wave was over the winter.
“Now is not the time to relax one’s personal efforts,” she said.
On Wednesday, the county marked the one-year anniversary of its first COVID-19 death. Gardner said she knew the person, who was active in the community.
As the death toll hit 292 in the county this week, Gardner said community input is being solicited for a COVID-19 memorial in the county. Ideas and suggestions can be submitted on the county’s website, FrederickCountyMD.gov/Memorial, until 4 p.m. on April 16.
“As we approach the sad milestone of 300 lost lives, it is important that we honor those lives in a lasting and meaningful way,” Gardner said. “Frederick is a caring community, and we can demonstrate that by supporting family and friends with a memorial where they can remember their loved ones.”
The rising COVID-19 metrics are running head-on into an expanding vaccination effort.
More than 17 percent of the county’s population has now been fully vaccinated against the disease, while roughly 28 percent (74,082) have received at least one shot of the two-dose vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna.
Both of those companies announced this week that one shot provides 80 percent protection against symptomatic COVID-19 in real-world circumstances. The efficacy increases to 90 percent after two shots.
With vaccine supply expanding, Hogan announced that all Maryland residents 16 or older can now pre-register for an appointment at one of the state’s mass vaccination sites. That is ahead of the April 27 date the state set for all Maryland residents 16 or older to be eligible to receive the vaccine.
Hogan said the mass vaccination in Frederick County will open the week of April 12 at Frederick Community College.
There was some confusion regarding that announcement because the Frederick County Health Department already operates a vaccine clinic at FCC.
Vivian Laxton, the communications director for Gardner, said the state would likely be providing extra doses to the existing clinic at FCC, but plans are being finalized for a fourth county-run vaccination site. Those plans could be announced any day.
“The vaccine may literally be the difference between life and death for some people,” Gardner said. “So, we really do encourage anyone who is hesitant to get vaccinated to get the vaccine when it’s available to them.”