CHESTERTOWN — With Maryland entering stage two of Gov. Larry Hogan’s Roadmap to Recovery, meaning more businesses are allowed to be opened than those required to be closed, Kent County Health Officer William Webb is encouraging citizens to be mindful the COVID-19 pandemic is not finished yet.
“Reopening will continue. I anticipate, as I said, the operations of regular state government offices to come back online in a week or 10 days. I urge all to continue with their vigilance, with their face coverings, social distancing and hand washing,” Webb said during a Tuesday, June 9 commissioners meeting. “Personal responsibility will determine the pacing and success of reopening. Reopening does not mean that COVID-19 is behind us. I encourage all not to become complacent with the practices that have kept us safe.”
Webb said the state is likely soon to enter into a stage where citizens will be responsible for determining their own risk of contracting COVID-19. The state previously had restrictions in place to help lessen the spread of the virus by community transfer. Restrictions are still in place for indoor dining at restaurants and for gyms, theaters, youth camps and daycare centers.
“Tolerance for public health restrictions and law enforcement action is very low. Our citizens are ready for the freedom to evaluate their own risk,” Webb said.
Webb said the Kent County Health Department is now taking appointments for COVID-19 drive-thru testing from 9 a.m. to noon on Mondays and Wednesdays, June 8 through July 1. Testing is completed at the Kent County Public Works building, 709 Morgnec Road, Chestertown. Call 410-778-1350 to schedule an appointment.
To be tested, Webb said people must be residents of Kent County and they must wear a face mask.
There is no out-of-pocket cost for testing. The service is offered through a partnership between the health department, the Kent County Office of Emergency Services and the Kent County Sheriff’s Office.
Webb said the health department was “hoping the private sector and commercial sector would pick up community testing as part of their regular business practice.”
“We found that that is not the case,” Webb said. “The University of Maryland Shore Regional Health has declined to provide any meaningful community testing in the community. They will only test hospital patients or those citizens who are already members of their primary care practice.”
Webb said this leaves a “large swath” of the county out. LabCorp will not test nor will any pharmacies in the county, Webb said.
Webb said the health department will reallocate some of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — CARES Act — funding to hire a six-person team to perform testing two to three days a week through December. The estimated cost is $23,000 a month.
He said that program should be in place by early July so “we do not skip a beat with providing testing to the community and we have that resource available for those who seek it.”
Webb said “positivity rates” — the percentage of residents who have tested positive out of everyone who was tested on a rolling seven-day average — are a “new important metric to watch.” Kent County’s rate is 11.1% as of the Tuesday meeting.
“(Positivity rates) is the gauge by which we can better evaluate the presence of the virus in our community,” Webb said. “The higher the number, the higher the prevalence of the virus.”
Kent County’s rate, Webb said, is the second highest in the state, which has an overall average of 7.4%.
“So the virus is very much active in our community even though new cases and hospitalizations are down,” Webb said.
Webb said, as of June 7, Kent County has 187 total COVID-19 cases. There have been 19 deaths in the county due to the virus. The total number of people who have been tested is 1,222 with a testing rate of 6.3% of the county’s population.
He said community spread is “outpacing” outbreaks at nursing homes reporting more than “twice the number of new cases attributed to community spread as compared to congregant facilities.”
Webb said community spread also has “disproportionally impacted the Spanish speaking community” in the county in the last two weeks. Webb said the county had its first pediatric case last week.
He said large gatherings should “continue to be discouraged.”