Declaring there's one final battle to fight against the novel coronavirus before it is wrested under control, County Executive Jan Gardner warned of difficult weeks and months ahead with most of the key COVID-19 metrics spiking.
At a Thursday afternoon briefing at Winchester Hall, Gardner offered both a sobering outlook of what lied ahead and hope that coming vaccines from manufacturers Pfizer and Moderna could help bring the pandemic to an end.
"Hope is on the horizon," Gardner (D) said as Frederick County reported 126 new cases and two deaths related to COVID-19 Thursday.
County Health Officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer said the first doses of vaccine could be ready to distribute as soon as Dec. 14 and would go to front-line health care workers and the people most at-risk.
Brookmyer said vaccines might be available to the general public in the spring and that mitigation measures such as mask wearing and physical distancing will continue for the foreseeable future, even after the vaccine becomes widely available.
"When people start to be vaccinated, we are not going to know whether we are coming into contact with someone who has been vaccinated," Brookmyer said.
"There will still be a time period where we will be continuing with all of these protective measures. I am looking forward, though, to the day that we can rely on vaccination as an effective strategy to continue to reduce or eliminate opportunities for the virus to spread."
Though they offered hope, both Gardner and Brookmyer cautioned this was not a time to let down your guard.
Gardner repeatedly urged people to do their part by wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and avoiding large gatherings.
The 126 cases reported Thursday by the Frederick County Health Department were the second highest of the pandemic, trumped only by the 174 reported a day earlier.
Gardner said the county has averaged 115 cases per day over the past week and daily cases have more than doubled over the past month.
At Frederick Health Hospital, the number of coronavirus patients has been quickly and steadily climbing, reaching a high point of the pandemic (41) on Thanksgiving eve before falling back to 37 on Thursday, a number that matches the worst of the spring's first wave.
For the second straight day, the seven-day rolling positivity rate in the county surpassed the positivity rate for the state.
At 8.07 percent, the county's positivity rate entered territory not seen since early June. The state's positivity rate — currently 7.68 — has not been above 8 percent since the middle of May.
Asked about further restrictions that might be imposed to curb the spread of the virus, Gardner demurred, saying, "It's really difficult for one county to do something that's very different from the rest of the state."
In mid-November, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced limits to operating hours for restaurants and bars and reduced indoor capacity from 75 to 50 percent for retail businesses in an attempt to curb further spread of the virus. The capacity reduction of 50 percent included, but was not limited to retail shops, religious facilities, personal services, bingo halls, bowling alleys and fitness centers.
On Thursday, Gardner said, "There are things being talked about out there in the elected officials' world because there is concern this is going to get worse ... I think you are going to see weekly announcements coming from elected officials, but we are really looking for statewide application [of restrictions] because it's hard to do that in an isolated way."
The Maryland Department of Health reported 2,044 new cases Thursday, marking the 29th straight day that the number of daily cases in Maryland has exceeded 1,000 and the 13th time in the last 20 days they have exceeded 2,000.
The high point of 2,910 was reached on Nov. 19.
There are now 205,399 confirmed cases in Maryland, according to MDH. That includes 7,249 in Frederick County.
Statewide hospitalizations fell by five for a second consecutive day to 1,573. But the number of patients in intensive care rose by five to 364.
The death toll in the state now stands at 4,606 after it increased by 48 over the last 24 hours. In Frederick County, it now stands at 144.
Elected leaders on the state and local level, including Hogan and Gardner, believe most of the key virus metrics will get worse in the coming days, especially as the holidays get closer.
"We know that this December won't be like any we have experienced before," Gardner said. "From wearing masks while we are out to watching Advent services and other religious services online, and with tree-lighting ceremonies, the Kris Kringle parade and other holiday gatherings canceled, this year will certainly be different."