We are entering the most dangerous phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in many months, and the people of Maryland are essentially trying to steer without being able to see the road ahead.
Even as virus cases are exploding all around us, and hospitalizations and deaths are rising fast, comprehensive data on the transmission of the virus in Maryland has been unavailable for nearly two weeks.
A cyberattack knocked the Maryland Health Department’s website offline two weekends ago and the agency is slowly — very slowly, too slowly — bringing data back online.
Daily hospitalization and vaccination numbers are available, but the number of new cases and deaths, as well as the positivity rate, had yet to be updated on the state’s COVID dashboard as of Thursday.
And, since all coronavirus data is collected by the state Health Department, the numbers have also been missing from the dashboard run by the Frederick County Health Department. According to data that is available, hospitalizations are at their highest levels since late January, but how many new deaths or cases there have been each day is a mystery.
Are we doing better than the rest of the country, about the same or worse? We see some signs that things are not good.
Frederick Health Hospital has warned that it is approaching capacity in the intensive care unit and total new COVID patients are being admitted to the hospital at rates not seen since last winter.
We all know the danger of infection is rising. We can read the national numbers with more than 120,000 new cases every day, and deaths more than 1,200 a day, now surpassing 800,000 deaths across the country.
We also see the other signs that the virus is out of control again, with professional athletes testing positive and some games being canceled.
We know things are bad, but we don’t know for sure how bad.
State Health Department spokesman Andy Owen told the News-Post in an email that restoration work continues “around the clock” and the data will be updated at the “earliest opportunity.” But he did not provide an estimate of when that would be.
Frederick County’s Health Department can do little, other than wait and watch for the state numbers to be updated.
When News-Post reporter Angela Roberts asked health department spokesmen Rissah Watkins and Shawn Dennison how the server outage has affected the department, they took a deep breath in unison. The bottom line, Watkins said, is that “we just can’t share what we don’t have.”
Until the state information is available, the county continues to tell people to get vaccinated, wear a mask in public places, wash hands frequently and be careful about large indoor gatherings.
Being able to share daily updates of the COVID-19 case count in Frederick County is helpful because it is a good way for the Health Department to keep the danger posed by the virus in the front of mind for the community. That is why the News-Post continues to publish the numbers every day.
Meanwhile, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has asked the state’s hospitals to get ready for a further surge in patients requiring in-patient care. The number of hospitalizations in the state have more than doubled in the past month.
We believe the governor should also consider reimposing a mask mandate for the state. We know there is a lot of resistance among some people, but a mandate from the governor would re-emphasize the importance of masking up. We believe some additional number of people would, however reluctantly, use masks again if Hogan required it. And every little bit can help.
In the meantime, get your vaccine and get your booster shot as well, people. We implore you to take care of yourselves. We have lost far too many people in this community to this terrible disease. You don’t want to be next.