Montgomery Co. health officials focus on increasing awareness, addressing hospital overcapacity

There has been a steady increase in COVID-19 cases across Montgomery County, Maryland, over the past few weeks.

Health officials are now working to stop the spread. The county’s community level status is currently listed as “medium” when it comes to the number of cases, according to the CDC guidelines.

This week alone, more than 40% of tests collected at county testing sites were positive, according to Sean O’Donnell, the public health emergency preparedness manager with the county’s Department of Health and Human Services.

He says while influenza and RSV cases are on the decline, the focus is now on reducing the impact of COVID for those facing a higher risk.

“We are certainly on the edge of ‘high’ and it is distinctly possible that we are there at some point this week,” O’Donnell stressed.

During a community briefing, County Executive Marc Elrich said hospitals across the state are at 90% capacity and some are completely full. New COVID cases account for more than 10% of hospital bed occupancy.

Dr. Patsy McNeil is the chief medical officer at Adventist Health, and says, if possible, residents should consider telehealth or scheduling a doctor’s visit instead of going to emergency rooms.

“As far as respiratory viruses, there is a burden on hospitals right now. The effects of the pandemic on illnesses because of delays is real,” she said.

Dr. James Bridgers, the county’s health officer, said he is prepared to issue an advisory if the county reaches a “high” level status when looking at cases — including the possibility of a mask mandate.

As cases rise, Elrich said the county will also end its COVID-19 rent relief program this week due to a lack of funding. The remaining $18 million in funds will be distributed to residents who have already submitted applications.

Elrich called on the federal government to step in while expressing a desire to see more people get back into the job market.

“I know Montgomery County cannot be alone in this. We’ll continue to look at what else we can do to help,” he said.

In December, during a weekly briefing with reporters, Dr. Louis Damiano, president of Holy Cross Health Acute Care for Maryland, said that despite the surge in people heading to the hospital with upper respiratory tract issues, “We’re not at the point right now in the ‘tripledemic,’ where we have to go into full-blown surge plan like we did during the earlier portion of the COVID pandemic and during the omicron pandemic, but we’re ready” to do that as they monitor the patients being seen.

Only a month later, the Maryland Hospital Association announced that many Montgomery County hospitals were almost at full capacity. The staffing shortage in local hospitals, combined with the higher amount of hospitalized patients, is becoming an even more serious issue, and they continue to urge residents to get vaccinated and stay masked.

In all, the county has distributed $93 million in federal relief funds to more than 11,000 households during the pandemic.

Melissa Howell

Melissa Howell joined WTOP Radio in March 2018 and is excited to cover stories that matter across D.C., as well as in Maryland and Virginia. 

Federal News Network Logo
Log in to your WTOP account for notifications and alerts customized for you.

Sign up