COVID-19 cases are down precipitously in Montgomery County, Maryland, but the county executive and health officials on Wednesday said it’s too soon to pop Champagne.
County Executive Marc Elrich, in a media briefing Wednesday, said cases in the county are down 51% since last week, at 579.81 cases per 100,000 residents.
The bad news: “Our case rate numbers are still at the highest they’ve been during the pandemic,” Elrich said. “We can’t celebrate just yet, and we have to pivot our focus on what’s next.”
The highly transmissible omicron variant has become the dominant strain of the coronavirus, and while it’s considered less severe on the whole than other variants, its contagiousness still means eye-popping numbers: “More people in the state of Maryland have died from COVID this month than any other month in the pandemic,” Erlich said.
And Montgomery County has seen 120 COVID-19 deaths this month, more than the previous four months combined, he added.
“So for anybody who wants to say it’s just like the flu, not so much.”
Montgomery County is still outpacing the state in terms of COVID-19 safety, Elrich said: The test positivity rate is 9.7%, while Maryland’s is 13.47%, and the county accounts for 8.4% of Maryland’s cases, despite having 17% of the state’s population.
“That’s a credit to our high vaccination rate,” Elrich said. However, way fewer people have gotten booster shots — under 50% of those eligible, Sean O’Donnell, with the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said.
O’Donnell added that vaccination rates are taking a heartening jump among children ages 5 to 11 — about 60% in that age group have had at least one shot.
He added that Black and Latino kids are trailing their adult counterparts in getting vaccinated, however.
“So we’re continuing to work on making up ground with these groups,” O’Donnell said.
O’Donnell added that, while testing hit a peak around Christmas, there’s been a significant decrease since then. All county testing sites “are available for walk-up testing, generally without a wait,” he said.
Both Elrich and O’Donnell emphasized that getting vaccinated and boosted is your best bet at avoiding COVID-19, or of evading serious illness if you do get it.
Elrich added that the next variant is always around the corner.
“Omicron popped out of nowhere, and we’ll surely see another variant,” Elrich said. And while omicron may not be as devastating on the whole, “There’s no automatic rule that the virus becomes milder.”
Elrich also emphasized the importance of getting tested — and that if you test yourself, you should report the result yourself.
Tests are available at schools and in 19 county libraries, and the county executive recalled handing out tests at the White Oak library last Friday.
“It was very cold, and folks had been waiting outside in the cold for well over an hour before distribution began. But despite the wait and the cold, these residents are very patient and very grateful.”
Now that people can get at-home tests, he said, it’s important to let the county know the results through the online portal.
“We originally were doing testing, and everything happened on site; it was pretty easy to check,” Elrich said. “Now that there are at-home kits, you guys are holding on to a lot of knowledge that we could use in the county. So if you’ve had a test and you’re negative, let us know. And if you had a test and you’re positive, please let us know.”
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