CHESTERTOWN — Health Officer William Webb wants Kent County residents to remember there is still an active pandemic going on — Fourth of July weekend or not.
Despite the state’s coronavirus case numbers holding steady, Webb said at a June 30 Kent County Commissioners meeting that he’s “optimistic, but we do have to be prepared for a re-emergence of the virus.”
“Another very significant challenge that we have is encouraging our citizens of the relevance of masks, social distancing, hand sanitizer and making responsible personal choices,” Webb said. “With the number of new cases that we have had being so low, it’s difficult for people to personalize that the virus is still here in our community and if given a chance will re-emerge ferociously.”
Webb reported hospitalizations, new cases and positivity rates are trending down statewide while COVID-19 testing and personal protective equipment supply amounts are increasing. Kent County, Webb said, is “doing better than the rest of the state.”
As of June 29, there has been an increase of 12 cases since the last time he reported to the commissioners on June 8. The county’s total case count is 200 as of press time. Of the 12 new cases, two are related to nursing homes — though one of those cases involves an employee who lives in Kent County but works at a nursing home outside the county.
There have been 10 community spread cases, Webb said.
The Resorts at Chester River is the county’s only nursing home in an “outbreak situation,” Webb said.
Webb said about half of the county’s total cases can be attributed to nursing homes. He said community spread though is “significantly outpacing nursing homes.”
Discussing whether or not nursing homes can reopen to visitors, Webb said there is a “detailed and comprehensive three phase plan that has been mandated by the (Maryland Department of Health.)” He expects Heron Point and Peak Healthcare to “be ready shortly” to enter phase one.
Webb reported 22 total confirmed deaths in the county due to COVID-19 — up by three from the last time he reported to the commissioners on June 8. Those three, Webb said, are related to nursing home cases.
The health department’s drive-thru testing site located at the Public Works building, which opened June 8, has resulted in 450 tests, Webb said. Overall, the county has tested 12.1% of the population with the statewide goal to test at least 10% of its population.
Webb said the seven-day positivity rate is 2.26%, which is less than the state’s rate of 4.9%. The positivity rate, Webb said, is the “number of people who test positive out of everyone who is tested in the last seven days.”
Because of the summer heat, Webb said the health department will be moving its testing site to an office at 514 Washington Ave. suite 118, next to the LabCorps office. Webb said that site should open by Monday, July 6. The hours will be the same — 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Mondays and Thursdays.
Webb said the county’s contact tracing efforts have been successful with a full-time contract tracer starting with the county on Wednesday, July 1.
The Whitsitt Center will not open until Monday due to procedural changes, Webb said.
University of Maryland Shore Regional Health has “consistently reported bed availability,” Webb said, during the last three weeks.
“This is all good news,” Webb said.
Despite the good, Webb encouraged citizens to remember the importance of non-pharmaceutical measures for reducing spread. He said the Kent County Health Department “routinely fields calls about those who feel face coverings and social distancing are an imposition.”
“I do want to take this opportunity to remind everybody that those non-pharmaceutical interventions are what have gotten us to where we are today,” Webb said. “In the last three weeks, we’ve seen the COVID-19 situation in Kent County improve significantly.”
When President of the Kent County Commissioners Tom Mason asked for guidance on those wishing to spend their Fourth of July weekend at the beach, Webb advised citizens to travel if they want, but stay socially distant, not engage in activities like eating out or going shopping.
Through an executive order announced June 30, Delaware Gov. John Carney closed beach bars over the holiday weekend.
“It’s when you get on the boardwalks, it’s when you get in the large crowds, when you get into elevators of hotels, that’s when all bets are off,” Webb said. “I think that our citizens are capable of making their own decisions and assessing the risk that they are making.”
Mason said there are businesses at the beach that need revenue.
“We don’t want to be fear mongers in a sense, but I think you have to do what you’re comfortable (with) and try to be as safe as you can,” Mason said.
Commissioner Ron Fithian said crowds are “not all related to vacation, either,” referencing the protests in response to police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death.
“If you watch television, it’s hard to turn on a channel that you don’t see a crowd of people out. Some of them are vacationing, some of them are protesting. It’s all the same. It’s a number of people coming together,” Fithian said. “I don’t think it's a question that we see a spike in this problem in some areas that could have probably been avoided until a better time, but nevertheless.”
While Webb said “only time will tell” if the reduction in cases is due to “routine season decline” or “wise public health leadership from our governor,” he asserted the community's continued success “rests with the actions and personal responsibilities everyone takes.”
“Please continue to wear masks. Stay at home if you’re high risk. Wash your hands and keep your distance while socializing,” Webb said. “Your efforts make a difference.”