CHESTERTOWN — While 2020 is coming to a close with a bit of light at the end of the tunnel in the form of a forthcoming COVID-19 vaccine, coronavirus case numbers continue to rise at the local and state level.
Kent County Health Officer William Webb said during a Tuesday commissioner’s meeting that the county’s COVID-19 case numbers mirror those of late March and early April, just without the state-mandated restrictions — like a stay at home order — in place.
Webb said a COVID-19 “surge is here” and moving rapidly through the county.
While Webb said the county does have the option of implementing tighter restrictions than those in place at the state level, he is not advocating for any at this time. Webb said as the Eastern Shore counties typically implement restrictions together, stricter measures here would likely see a marginal return.
Since his last report to the commissioners on Nov. 17, there have been 131 new cases, 101 new cases in the last two weeks alone. Webb said the jump in cases represents about 25% of all cases reported in the county since the virus first presented itself here.
Webb said the county’s positivity rate, the total number of positive tests out of all the tests taken on a rolling seven day average, has more than doubled since Nov. 17.
Community spread is the largest cause, accounting for 113 cases since Nov. 17. There have been 11 facility-related cases and seven public school-related cases.
As of Dec. 6, there have been 507 positive cases in the county.
Given that 42% of respondents to contact tracing do not know where they were exposed to COVID-19, Webb urged the community to continue wearing masks, washing their hands and practice social distancing.
A Chestertown police officer is self-isolating after testing positive for the virus that causes the disease, Mayor Chris Cerino announced at the Monday, Dec. 7 council meeting and Police Chief John Dolgos confirmed Tuesday.
The officer, who was experiencing symptoms, was tested Sunday at University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown.
Two other officers who had contact with the infected officer are quarantining but have shown no symptoms of the virus, which is primarily spread through respiratory droplets and close personal contact. If they continue to remain asymptomatic, those officers will return to work before the weekend, according to the police chief.
This is the first time a CPD officer has tested positive, Dolgos said. Several officers have previously had to quarantine due to possible exposure, including two officers who responded to an off-campus party in March that was attended by a Washington College student who subsequently tested positive.
Dolgos said the CPD is following health department guidelines to slow the spread of COVID-19. The police station at 601 High St. remains closed to the public. Officers are physically distanced in the building, the chief said, and they are wearing masks whenever there is more than one officer in a room.
"It's hitting close to home now," Dolgos said in a phone interview Tuesday. He is urging residents to wear facial coverings indoors and outdoors, social distance and wash their hands.
As virus numbers grow, local hospital availability is something to watch.
Webb said Tuesday that UM Shore Medical Center at Chestertown had two days last week with no vacancy in the acute care facility. However, that may not be entirely due to COVID-19 as flu season will soon be fully underway.
Webb asked all those who have not received a flu shot to do so as soon as possible, which may help free up hospital beds for COVID-19 patients.
Though Webb said Kent County has the third highest percentage of population tested within the state, local testing areas are becoming overwhelmed. He said the health department is changing the company that processes tests in order to achieve a fast turnaround time for results.
Webb said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Maryland Department of Health have released new quarantine guidelines this month.
He said if a person has come in close contact to someone known to COVID-19 positive, they should self-quarantine. However, if they remain asymptomatic, they may be released from quarantine after seven days if they test negative on or after the fifth day.
Additionally, Webb said if a person quarantines without symptoms, they may be released after 10 days without a negative test.
Webb cautioned against taking a COVID-19 test too soon after exposure as it will likely produce a false negative test before the virus presents itself.
Webb said the health department has been advised to prepare for a vaccine delivery as soon as Dec. 22. The vaccine will be provided at no cost.
The first round of the vaccine will likely be delivered in a limited supply. It will be administered to healthcare workers and residents of nursing homes or congregate care facilities first. That group will be followed by essential infrastructure works like first responders and finally adults with high risk medical conditions and those over 65 years of age.
Webb said there will likely be vaccine shortages even within the priority groups. He said coordinating the delivery of the vaccine will be an “enormous task” for Kent County’s population of nearly 20,000.
The vaccine also must be administered in two doses separated by at least 21 days.
Webb said hospitals and pharmacies will receive the Pfizer vaccine because of their capacity for ultra cold storage. The health department will receive the Moderna vaccine.
While the vaccination plan has not been solidified, Webb said vaccinations will occur by appointment only. Appointments must be made through an online system, which presents a challenge for those in the county without internet access.
Associate Editor Trish McGee contributed to this report.