CHESTERTOWN — A little more than a month removed from the end of the holiday season, Kent County Health Officer William Webb said Tuesday the county is starting to see COVID-19 conditions improve, while the health department continues to focus on vaccinating efforts.
A mass vaccination clinic opened Wednesday at the Kent County Community Center after the location’s use was approved by commissioners in a prior meeting.
However, as Webb said during his health update to the commissioners Tuesday, the biggest question coming from Kent County citizens tends to be: How to make an appointment for the vaccine?
Noting the health department is receiving a small amount of vaccines, which limits the number of appointments that can be offered, Webb said appointment times go online at about 10 a.m. every Wednesday.
He said the health department also is trying to consistently push out information on appointment availability the night before via its website, social media pages and notification lists.
Webb said within the last two or three weeks, the health department has only received 300 first doses.
The Maryland Department of Health further instructs that 100 of the 300 first doses must be administered to those in the education sector. Fifty of the 300 first doses are reserved for those in continuity of government. That leaves 150 left for the public — 75 appointments are posted publicly Wednesday mornings and 75 are reserved for seniors needing assistance for registration.
Webb said the local health department is only posting appointments when they have "vaccine in hand."
"With the fluctuating supply the way it is, it is very difficult to set up appointments and not have the vaccine and not meet the expectations (of the public) if we have to cancel appointments," Webb said.
Webb said there is no statewide registration process. So if you have registered through marylandvax.org, you'll see a different registration form than if you try to register at Walmart's vaccinate website, for example.
"It is cumbersome and it is not user friendly," Webb said.
Webb said available appointments are then divided into two groups: the general public and volunteers who are helping seniors to get registered. Vaccine clinics are only available to those who work or live in Kent County.
Webb said those who do not have access to the internet or are having trouble filling out the form may call the health department, leave their contact information and explain that they are having trouble registering. Volunteers from the Commission on Aging or other senior care partners like the Chester Valley Minister's Association will then contact you and walk you through the registration process.
Delmarva Community Transit is now providing transportation to and from the Kent County Community Center clinic. Ride information is posted on the health department's website at kenthd.org.
Call DCT dispatch at 410-778-5187 at least 24 hours in advance between 7 a.m. and 4 p.m. to arrange for a ride. The rides are $3 each way. To book medical assistance transportation, call 410-778-7025.
Webb said 14.8% of the county's population has been vaccinated with the first dose, meaning Kent County has one of the highest percentages of population vaccinated in the state. However, that fact is a "byproduct" of the county's small size, Webb said.
"We are doing fairly well in terms of the percentage of our citizens who are vaccinated," Webb said. "Can we do better? You bet. If we had more supply, we could do better. We want to do better."
The county remains in phase 1C of the state's vaccination plan meaning adults age 65-74, essential workers in lab service, agriculture, manufacturing and postal service can get now vaccinated. This is on top of those in phases 1A and 1B — healthcare workers, residents in nursing homes, first responders, public safety, corrections and those in assisted living, other congregate settings, adults age 75 and older, education and continuity of government.
Because there is a high percentage of Kent County's population over the age of 65, Webb said the health department's focus remains on vaccinating that age group.
"I'm hopeful that at some point in two to three months, we'll be able to open up vaccine appointments to those who are occupationally identified in 1C," Webb said. "We are moving forward with those in the senior population specifically because those are the folks — if they get infected, they're much more likely to have serious, serious complications and have serious disease."
Webb said moving forward in the vaccine plan timeline is dependent on the amount of vaccine doses made available to the county and to other providers like University of Maryland Shore Medical Center at Chestertown and Walgreens.
Since he last provided a health update to the Kent County Commissioners Jan. 12, Webb said there has been a "significant decline" in new positive cases of the novel coronavirus.
"This is good news," Webb said. "We're seeing a significant decrease in the number of new cases statewide and that's also reflected in Kent County."
Hospital bed utilization is trending down by 28% statewide, Webb said, after peaking on Jan. 12. While every zip code in the county now has enough cases to meet the minimum amount to report the numbers, Webb said the total positive cases here are also trending down by 42% since Jan. 12.
There have been seven deaths due to COVID-19 since Webb's last presentation Jan. 12.
Webb said there are currently 69 active cases in the county representing 6.5% of the total number of cases reported here since the virus first appeared in the county.
"We haven't necessarily seen a flattening of that particular curve, but certainly the spread and prevalence of COVID-19 is waning," Webb said. "And I can't be more happy about that because it has been a long six months."
Webb said Kent County's positivity rate — the total number of positive tests out of every test administered on a rolling seven day average — has remained below the state average since Jan. 24. The rate has also remained below 5% since Jan. 26.
Kent's case rate per 100,000 people has dropped significantly, Webb said, by 73.6% since Jan. 11.
"That also illustrates that COVID is waning in the community." Webb said.
Webb said more contagious COVID-19 variants that originated in the United Kingdom and South African have been detected in Maryland. While a variant that originated in Brazil has not yet been detected here, Webb said the presence of these COVID-19 mutations only highlights the importance of vaccination efforts.
"All of these variants appear to have higher rates of transmission than the original COVID-19 virus," Webb said. "They are here."
Webb said the COVID-19 vaccines do "appear" to provide protection against the variants though it's not clear yet "how much protection and to what degree" they provide, he said.
Because the health department has shifted its focus to vaccination efforts, Webb said staff have made some changes to testing. Testing is now offered from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays. Testing will not be offered to those who have tested positive for COVID-19 in the last 90 days.