‘Not an anomaly’: Montgomery County eyes uptick in coronavirus cases

Montgomery County, Maryland, is seeing an uptick in coronavirus cases, which could put a pause on some activities related to reopening, and is preparing guidelines on how to celebrate upcoming holidays.

“We are at levels of virus that, if this had been May or June and we are making decisions about opening, we would not open,” County Executive Marc Elrich said during an update Wednesday.

The case count as of Wednesday was 124, down from 157 on Tuesday and 134 on Monday. However, on Sunday, it was at 163. The positivity rate is 3%, and the cases per 100,000 is up 11.9, an increase from a week ago when it was 10.4. The acceptable threshold is 10.

“There’s no doubt that this is not an anomaly anymore,” Elrich said.

The upward trend is not isolated in Montgomery County. County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles said numbers are up regionally, as well as statewide.


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“The trends have been established that we are seeing a sustained increase in cases, which gives us pause and gives us an opportunity to reflect on the possibility of needing to implement tighter restrictions on some of our activities,” Gayles said.

He reiterated what he said last week, when the county updated its coronavirus indicators, that business closures would not be the first course of action if the county rolls back some of its reopening provisions.

The numbers are the highest the county has seen since June, and with holidays approaching and more people planning to celebrate, the county said it will probably come out with guidance so people can celebrate safely.

Preparations for a surge in cases

Earl Stoddard, director of the Montgomery County Office of Emergency Management and Homeland Security, explained what was happening behind the scenes that was a reflection of the increase in cases that’s being reported.

This includes a meeting with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s staff last Thursday to talk about surge in the hospital system, and how to be ready for a surge in cases over the coming months.

“Where our bed counts are and what things we need to do to make sure that we have as much capacity as possible. We’ve got ventilators that the county has purchased. And, we’re working with going to work with hospitals to get those tested and trained on,” Stoddard said.

Holiday guidance

Elrich said with recent information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that the coronavirus can linger in the air for a longer period than previously thought, wearing a face mask and staying 6 feet apart from people while indoors for a couple of hours are not sufficient.

“People really need to think about this, and as we go into the holiday season, we’re asking people think about different ways to celebrate the holidays,” Elrich said.

He encouraged people who need to get tested to schedule an appointment, saying it’s the “best way right now for controlling the spread of the virus.”

“Until there are actual treatments that are readily available and a vaccine, which is widely available, we’re gonna have to deal with this in the best way we can. And the only way we can deal with this is through our own actions. So, I continue to encourage people to do the right thing, even if you’re tired of it,” Elrich said.

Social and family gatherings, in addition to working outside the home, indoor spaces, houses of worship and indoor dining facilities have shown up more frequently in contact tracing investigations and interviews of those who have tested positive for the coronavirus, Gayles said.

“Even when you’re interacting with family members now, or members of your network who don’t live within your household that you don’t come into regular contact with, it’s important to not let down your guard down. It’s important to continue to adhere to the public health guidance around face coverings, physical distancing, etc.” Gayles said.

Stoddard said holiday guidelines will likely be released after Halloween, as people start making plans and traveling to spend time with family for Thanksgiving.

“We know that people are going to do it. And we are not going to be able to discourage people from seeing their families on Thanksgiving in many cases. So while we’re not recommending it, we are going to recommend some mitigating things that you can do to keep it safer than it would be otherwise,” Stoddard said.

The guidelines will include how to develop a family plan and how to do a mini-bubble.

“I think our big concern is what happens after Thanksgiving” and the aftermath of people traveling to and from communities with high case rates, Stoddard said.

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