OCEAN CITY — During his weekly briefing on all things related to COVID-19 and the resort area, the city manager reported there were flaws in statistics that showed Worcester County trending as a potential hot spot and that enforcement of the relatively new mask requirement on the Boardwalk was going well.
Each week throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, included on the Mayor and Council meeting agenda is a report from City Manager Doug Miller on any new issues related to the public health crisis. This week, Miller addressed a couple of recent developments, including what appeared to a spike in new cases in Worcester County over the last few weeks.
As of Thursday, there have been 702 reported cases in Worcester, a number that rose steadily for a couple of weeks before leveling off in recent days. It’s important to note the increasing number of positive cases in the county is likely a byproduct of ramped-up testing in and around the resort area. For the last several weeks, the town has partnered with the county health department on an aggressive testing program at the Park-and-Ride and there is also testing available at the convention center.
“In terms of the most recent numbers, as of this morning, our health officer reports there 12,433 tests have been completed,” he said. “Of those, 697 were confirmed positive. Of those 697, 564 are home and doing well, or back to work already and doing well. They do have 133 at home in isolation and under observation.”
Miller told the Mayor and Council despite recent reports to the contrary, Worcester’s positivity rate, a key indicator during the crisis, was right in line with the state average.
“Unfortunately, we have had 18 deaths in Worcester because of COVID since this all began, but the county’s positivity rate as of today was 3.7%,” he said. “The statewide positivity rate as of today is 3.5%, so we’re right there.”
Miller said flaws in the positivity rate accounting showed Worcester County becoming a potential hot spot, but those errors have been corrected.
“As you know, it was reported in some media last week that Worcester County has become a hotspot with a positivity rate of 6%-plus,” he said. “That was because they weren’t reporting the numbers correctly. They weren’t reporting the negatives, only the positives. That has been corrected and, again, we are currently at a 3.7% positivity rate.”
Miller also reported on the status of the Boardwalk mask requirements. Two weeks ago, Mayor Rick Meehan issued a directive requiring the wearing of masks on the Boardwalk and in other public places.
“In terms of the Boardwalk mask requirement, the police department continues to enforce that through education and outreach,” he said. “That is going well. We estimate that 70% of the people are in compliance.”
Miller said police officers and public safety aides (PSAs) are carrying masks to provide to those who don’t have one on the Boardwalk and that is working out well. Despite there being no official venues for the air show this weekend, the plan is to concentrate mask enforcement efforts in the area the would have been the show center.
“We have started to go through some of our reserves, but the health department has offered some of their inventory,” he said. “In what used to be air show center, we will have a concentration of PSAs distributing masks.”
In a larger sense, some of the elected officials commented on town’s handling of the crisis, which, fairly or not in some cases, has met with some criticism. Almost weekly throughout COVID-19, the Mayor and Council have had to make major decisions on everything from special events, the Boardwalk tram, the Fourth of July fireworks and on and on and some of the decisions have not always been popular. Councilman John Gehrig this week defended the town’s handling of the public health crisis.
“There has been a fair amount of complaining about our handling of anything COVID-related,” he said. “We’re going through our summer season and the doomsday scenarios have not played out. I think the county has done a good job and I think we’ve done a good job. It hasn’t been perfect, but it hasn’t been bad either.”
Mayor Rick Meehan has been at the center of much of the decision-making through COVID. From the beginning, Meehan has issued and amended several executive orders from the declaration of a state of emergency way back in March to closing the beaches and Boardwalk and then reopening the beaches and Boardwalk to the mask requirements. This week, the mayor said he stands by those decisions and urged the town to stay the course.
“We’ve worked hard trying to do the right thing without a playbook,” he said. “We just need to continue to do our part and we need to be proactive.”