CHESTERTOWN — In his monthly update presented to the Kent County Commissioners, Health Officer William Webb said the two challenges facing residents in terms of the COVID-19 pandemic are coping with an ongoing surge of cases and vaccine distribution.
"So, I have good new and bad news today," Webb said during a Jan. 12 commissioners meeting.
Saying the virus is "as acute as it has ever been," Webb identified the bad news as COVID-19 cases increasing statewide and locally. The Betterton ZIP code, for example, has recently surpassed the threshold to start reporting case totals. As of press time, there are 10 cases in there.
There have been 88 active cases as of Sunday, 152 cases in the last two weeks and 342 cases since Dec. 7. There have been 852 total cases since COVID-19 first presented in Kent County. Webb said there have been six additional deaths since the last time he presented an update to the commissioners.
"Forty-four percent of all cases that have occurred in the county have occurred since Nov. 17 — that's a significant upswing," Webb said. "We are seeing regularly 10 to 20 new cases new cases a day. The prevalence that we have in the community for the virus is as high as it has ever been."
Webb said this surge in cases — likely due to people traveling for the holidays — is larger than the case load was in the county in April and May.
He said statewide hospitalization also is trending up because of the surge. On a positive note, Webb said the University of Maryland Shore Regional Health is reporting hospital bed availability.
"Hospital utilization is one of the most fundamental metrics that we're watching," Webb said. "We do not want our hospital systems to be overwhelmed with COVID-19 patients, because that would be bad for our entire community."
Kent County's positivity rate — a seven day rolling average of positive results as a percentage of all tests administered — remains below the state average at 5.9% as of Jan. 10. Webb said a positivity rate below 5% is the ideal.
"We're sort of in the caution zone between 5 and 10%," Webb said. "We're keeping a close eye on that."
He said it is important to note the Kent County positivity rate has been above 5% for 23 days despite being below the state average.
Webb said the case rate per 100,000 people has spiked in Kent County since Nov. 18. For the last 28 days, Kent County had been above the state average, which he said highlights the amount of COVID-19 in the community.
"Many, many aspects of our community have been impacted. Families have been impacted. Businesses have been impacted," Webb said. "Just about every corner of our community has seen ... a positive case or exposure. At this point, I encourage every citizen, as we move forward, to limit your social interactions. Stay at home if at all possible. Be very aware of social distancing and mask wearing. The virus is in our community and it have never been as prevalent as it has been in the last week."
Speaking to the good news, Webb said the COVID-19 vaccine is actively being distributed in Kent County — though it brings with a slew of logistic hurdles.
As he has noted in previous updates, Webb said the vaccine must be delivered in two doses from the same company — Moderna or Pfizer — and be administered at least 21 days apart.
Webb said vaccine distribution lends itself to mass vaccination clinics similar to the drive-thru COVID-19 testing offered by the Kent County Health Department last summer.
Webb said the health department's entire first floor will be dedicated to vaccination activities.
Vaccinations will occur by appointment only, which must be made online through a link on the health department's webpage. Those within phase 1A — healthcare workers, residents and staff of nursing homes, first responders, public safety — of the vaccine plan may receive the vaccine by invitation only.
The health department will have two to eight teams of vaccinating nurses who will vaccinate six to seven people per hour. There is a maximum of 330 vaccinations per day.
The health department also will collect health insurance information at the time of vaccination, though it will be administered at no cost or a small administrative cost.
Webb said mass vaccination clinics will likely be held in Rock Hall, Galena and in Chestertown once the phase 1B (those in assisted living, congregate settings, adults over age 75, education and continuity of government) begins.
He said the vaccine has been administered to 691 residents putting Kent County well above the state average for vaccination. Only six people in the county had received their second dose so far.
Community members with an active medical, nursing, pharmacy or paramedic license may volunteer to assist with vaccinations through the Maryland Responds Medical Reserve Corp.
For more information, visit mdresponds.health.maryland.gov.
Volunteers need to have their own transportation and be able to stand for extended periods of time.
When opened to questions from the commissioners, President Tom Mason asked how the health department can ensure the second dose of the vaccine will continue to be delivered as a new administration comes into power at the federal level.
"We've said all along that we want to follow the science, and now all of the sudden, it seems to me that we've thrown the science to the wind," Mason said.
Webb said he's been advised the second dose of vaccine allocated for Kent County will be the same as the amount as the first dose.
"We have been assured we will get the vaccine for the second dose when we need it," Webb said.
Webb said the health department purposely schedules vaccine clinics only two days a week in an effort to make it easier to track who needs the second dose and when. He said the second dose's administration also will be dependent on staffing and availability.
"I would (host vaccine clinics) seven days a week if I could do that," Webb said. "But it depends on the supply that we've got and the staffing."
When asked about any physical reactions to the vaccine by Mason, Webb said none have been severe.
Webb reported some side effects like skin being warm to the touch at the injection site, but he said that is a sign the vaccine is working within the body.