Montgomery Co. leaders issue urgent appeal to get flu, COVID boosters

Sounding the alarm about growing numbers of respiratory viruses locally, leaders from Montgomery County, Maryland are pleading with people to get vaccinated against the flu and COVID-19.

“Get the [bivalent] boosters, get the flu shots. And consider whether or not to wear masks voluntarily when you’re going into more crowded places, because now you have three things to try to avoid,” County Executive Marc Elrich said, referring to COVID-19, the flu and RSV.

Elrich said hospitals are seeing patients with combinations of multiple viruses that can complicate health outcomes. As the three viruses impact hospitals and the community, Elrich said leaders will be deciding upon the appropriate courses of action.

Dr. Kisha Davis, the nominee to be Montgomery County’s next health officer, was asked about the potential return of preventative masks at a media briefing on Wednesday.

“I think it’s too early to tell at this point. I look forward to working with [Dr. James C. Bridgers, Jr.] and the health department and really figuring out what is the best thing to go forward,” Davis said. “That’s a bridge that we have to cross when we get there.”

“Montgomery County has done a good job so far in responding to these [ailments] and I think we’ve got that muscle memory and have laid really strong protocols in place for responding to all of these things that are coming our way,” she said.

When responding to the same question about masks, Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Dr. Earl Stoddard agreed they can help prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. He also emphasized the need for more people to get the updated bivalent COVID-19 vaccine that targets both the original strain of the virus and its recent variants.

“The most effective mechanism to prevent the spread is vaccination,” Stoddard said. “The focus right now is making sure people get vaccinated before we see our winter surge.”

Concerned about the upcoming winter, Elrich said there has already been a COVID-19 surge in Europe.

“And when Europe surges, we’re usually not too far behind. I think we’re about a three week difference between us and England. Wastewater detection surveillance is starting to see upticks of cases in the Northeast, including in nearby Pennsylvania,” Elrich said. “And we must be deliberate in our efforts to protect ourselves and our families. We’re going to have to keep severe cases at a minimum and our hospitalization rates in this county as low as possible.”

“We can avoid most deaths that are quote ‘caused by COVID’ if people would just get vaccinated,” Elrich said. “We’re at the point when virtually nobody needs to die from this. So we’re encouraging people to please get vaccinated and get the flu vaccine.”

Multiple coronavirus variants, all targeted by the updated bivalent booster vaccine, are currently circulating in Montgomery County, officials said.

A national survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation published in September shows the updated bivalent booster isn’t being embraced as eagerly as it might. About a third of all adults — 32% — say they’ve already gotten a new booster dose or intend to get one “as soon as possible.”

Anyone 12 and older who had their last vaccine dose at least two months ago should get the updated booster shot, county officials say.

The Halloween ‘BOO!sterama’ event on Saturday, Oct. 29 at Westfield Wheaton Mall will have bivalent booster shots available between 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. free with no appointments necessary. People getting shots will be entered in a drawing to receive one of five $50 gift cards that can be used at retailers throughout the mall.

If you show up at the event, county spokesman Scott Peterson you might see someone dressed as a banana (aka “Bob Dole”), saying like this: “It drives me bananas that folks aren’t getting boosted.”

Or, “You know what is a-peel-ing? Being boosted.”

Or “Don’t slip up, get your booster before the holidays”

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Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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