The St. Mary’s commissioners convened as the county’s board of health at Tuesday’s meeting, and received updates about expanded COVID-19 testing within the county.
Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for the county, told commissioners there are now almost 600 confirmed cases in the county and cases continue to rise as access to testing is increased. According to the health department’s website, as of yesterday there were 585 cases and 40 deaths in St. Mary’s.
“A lot has been going on with testing” over the past few weeks, she said, and a little over 5% of the population of the county has been tested.
“Our aim is at least 10%” of the population be tested, Brewster said, adding, “if residents are concerned, we encourage them to talk to their current doctor,” and if they do not have one, she urged them to use the local COVID-19 hotline at 301-475-4911, Mondays through Fridays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Brewster mentioned she has continued to see asymptomatic transmission, and it has proved to play a significant role in the community spread of the virus. She recommended anyone who has attended large events closely monitor their health.
“We’re moving forward with expanded testing initiatives,” she said, before noting another round of testing at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home, which began Monday. The health department is working on expanding testing to senior living facilities in the county, and recently was able to provide testing to the Cedar Lane Senior Community in Leonardtown.
Brewster told the commissioners her staff is also working on testing emergency services personnel and thanked those individuals for stepping forward to get themselves tested. In addition, the health department has set up local pop-up testing stations. On Wednesday, there will be a walk-up testing site in Lexington Park in the U-Haul plaza on Great Mills Road, where she said they will be accepting people who walk-up, bike, arrive in a car or a horse and buggy.
The department has been working with local businesses “to help implement measures to decrease transmission in their facilities,” Brewster said, as businesses are beginning to reopen.
“It’s still safer to telework, stay at home as much as possible, wash hands” and continue to wear cloth face coverings, she said. She also suggested staying outside as much as possible when in public, a safer option than being inside.
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) asked about hospitalization rates in the county. Brewster responded the county has not seen a rise in hospitalizations, with 10 or fewer people on a daily basis at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital in Leonardtown.
Hewitt asked if cases are increasing, why are how hospitalization rates not? Brewster explained in the beginning of testing only those who were severely ill were encouraged to get tested, but now testing is occurring in mild or asymptomatic cases, which “are not the individuals we expect to end up in the hospital.” She noted there has been a statewide decease in hospitalizations, as well.
“We had some protests out here,” Hewitt said, “it seems like two weeks later you’d see a spike in cases.”
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) pointed out that not all of the participants probably got tested, even though, according to Brewster, the sheriff’s office and the health department encouraged participants to monitor their symptoms and get tested.
After Hewitt asked about the effectiveness of face masks, the health officer said “more and more science is coming out saying cloth face masks are protecting people” by preventing transmission.
State health department data shows Charlotte Hall and Lexington Park ZIP codes still stand with the highest amount of COVID-19 cases throughout the pandemic, with 209 cases ever being confirmed in Charlotte Hall and 124 in Lexington Park, as of Monday.
The positivity rate, that is, the percentage of people who are tested who receive positive results, in St. Mary’s has dropped to 3.25%, lower than the statewide positivity rate of 6.2% and Charles County (5.25%), and close to Calvert County (3.29%). Health officials have said the positivity rate has continuously dropped as testing capacity has increased and the threshold for being tested has lowered, but the rate is becoming more useful as most have been able to receive tests in the past few weeks.