A person in Frederick County has tested positive for the new coronavirus disease, the county announced Monday.
The woman is in her 30s and did not travel to an area with ongoing community spread, but had contact with individuals who had, county health officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer said in a briefing Monday morning.
The woman did not require hospitalization and is recovering at home.
"Imagine it three times removed: If I’m the traveler and I infect someone else, that’s contact of a traveler," Brookmyer said after the press conference, explaining how the spread occurred in this case. "Well, what if someone over here is infected, they didn’t know they were in contact with someone who was sick. ... How often are they infecting other people and spreading it to other people? So it’s like the third [person] removed."
She added the person received the positive test from a private lab, and declined to reveal what part of the county the resident was from, citing privacy reasons. The health department is investigating the case, she said.
"Now, we knew this was going to happen for the last several weeks based on what we had seen in the rest of the country and more recently in Maryland," Brookmyer said in the briefing.
This makes 38 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland since March 5, when Hogan announced the state’s first case of the disease.
Although Frederick County has its first case, it does not necessarily mean the risk for the county’s overall population changes, Brookmyer said in an email. Risk could depend on the details of the case.
If the person contracted COVID-19 after travel, the risk to the community is low, Brookmyer said.
But if the person does not have a history of travel, it might indicate that the illness is spreading in the community. The risk in that case would be higher, she said.
If there is person-to-person spread in the community, there could be more widespread changes, Brookmyer said. This includes canceling events and meetings, letting employees telework and other social distancing methods seen in other communities. Gov. Larry Hogan already announced several measures to encourage social distancing, including prohibiting gatherings of more than 250 people, closing casinos and changing how restaurants can operate.
On March 12, Maryland announced its first case of COVID-19 — a Prince George's County man in his 60s — from community transmission.
The response in Frederick County will likely stay the same as before the positive case, Brookmyer said.
“We will continue to recommend personal actions to reduce the potential to spread any infections and to reduce the potential for becoming infected, especially if one is particularly at-risk for complications,” she said in the email. “We will still be monitoring the situation and working with providers to screen their patients. If the situation warrants, we could be monitoring people in isolation, but will continue to provide updates to the community about our level of risk and recommended actions.”
The Frederick County Health Department will work with the Maryland Department of Health and follow state guidelines to monitor the person. That includes talking with the person in self-isolation a couple of times a day to monitor their health and make sure they have everything they need.
Brookmyer and County Executive Jan Gardner said that a press conference won't be held for each new case, but county officials will keep residents updated in the coming days and weeks.
For now, it's important for people to practice social distancing in order to lessen the impact on the health care system, Brookmyer said.
"It’s about flattening the curve. The fewer people we come into contact with, the less the risk we will become infected, the less the risk is that we would unknowingly infect someone else," Brookmyer said. She added it's difficult to tell the difference between the flu and coronavirus.
She said Frederick County's first recorded case is a reminder that younger people are not immune, although those over 60 and with compromised immune systems tend to be at higher risk. It's important for all county residents to be vigilant and prevent the virus from spreading, Gardner said.
"It takes the public to keep the community safe," Gardner said.
Staff writer Steve Bohnel contributed to this report.