(This article has been updated at 6 p.m.)
SNOW HILL – County officials urged residents to stay calm as they shared details of Worcester County’s first COVID-19 case Thursday.
In a press conference Thursday afternoon, Worcester County Health Department (WCHD) staff confirmed a Worcester County man in his 30s had tested positive, as had an out-of-town woman who visited Ocean City last weekend. They asked citizens to continue practicing prevention strategies such as handwashing and social distancing.
“This is a time for prayer, not panic,” Commissioner Chip Bertino said.
Debra Stevens, the health department’s director of community health and emergency preparedness, said the confirmed COVID-19 case in Worcester County was a “close contact” of the Wicomico County case announced earlier Thursday who acquired the disease through travel.
After the press conference, the WCHD offered more information about the connection between the two cases. The statement read, “A contact includes someone who has household contact of a confirmed case, an intimate partner, caretakers, persons within 6 feet of a confirmed case (for more than 5 minutes), someone who has been coughed or sneezed on by a confirmed case.”
Stevens said she was also being asked if the Worcester County case was linked to the Berlin daycare Bundles of Joy.
“I can tell you the case investigation we completed today was based on a person’s onset of illness,” she said. “There was no exposure identified in any daycare in Worcester County.”
Shortly after noon on Thursday, Berlin daycare Bundles of Joy University advised parents to pick up their children “after a family member of our Berlin location has tested positive for COVID-19,” according to a text alert sent to clients. The alert went on to state “this case was reported to the Worcester County Health Department.” The daycare said it would be closed for quarantine until March 30. According to a second text to families, the enrolled child of the family member has not attended the facility since March 11.
Stevens confirmed that a woman who lived outside of Worcester County but had visited Ocean City the weekend before St. Patrick’s Day had tested positive.
“We conducted a case investigation and confirmed that indeed that person visited Ocean City prior to her onset of illness,” Stevens said. “Therefore she was not ill when she was here, she became ill after she left, and there were no exposures in Worcester County establishments.”
After the media event, a WCHD statement added, “People are thought to be most contagious when they are the most symptomatic (sickest). Our contact investigation per MDH guidance begins at the start date of symptom onset. Some spread might be possible before people show symptoms; there have been reports of this occurring with this new coronavirus, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads.”
Commissioner Ted Elder encouraged residents to remain calm.
“We all knew this day was coming,” he said. “It’s been on its way for a while. Now that it’s here we need to buckle down. Worcester County residents have been through all different kinds of things before. The key is to remain calm.”
Sheriff Matt Crisafulli offered similar advice and encouraged citizens to continue practicing social distancing.
The health department opened a call center Thursday for questions regarding coronavirus. Callers can reach the center during health department business hours (8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday) by dialing 410-632-1100 option #8. General information on COVID-19 is available 24/7 through Worcester Health’s Public Information Line 410-632-4321 and WorcesterHealth.org.