Worcester County’s COVID Spike After Thanksgiving Results In Heightened Concerns For Holidays

Worcester County’s COVID Spike After Thanksgiving Results In Heightened Concerns For Holidays
Worcester County’s positivity rate is 9.65%, nearly two percentage points higher than the state average. Image courtesy of https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/

BERLIN – As Worcester County’s COVID-19 positivity rate jumped above 9% this week, health officials can’t say for certain why local rates are now exceeding state positivity levels.

On Sunday, Worcester County’s positivity rate inched ahead of the state rate. By Thursday, the rate in Worcester County was 9.65% while statewide it was 7.73%. The daily positivity hit its December high on Thursday at 9.65%, up from 6.43% last Tuesday, Dec. 8. The last time the positivity rate exceeded 9% in Worcester County was on May 31.

As for the seven-day moving average case rate per 100,000 metric, another one closely watched by health officials, Worcester County’s number hit 37.99 on Thursday. The county figure is far below the state average of 45.17 as of Thursday. However, the rate is the highest it has been in Worcester County since early August.

Officials say there’s no clear cause associated with the local increase.

“In our contact tracing interviews, we are identifying community spread, in other words, no particular one event or outbreak can account for the daily differences of increases and decreases,” said Debra Stevens, nursing director for the Worcester County Health Department.

According to the state’s coronavirus website, on Wednesday Worcester County was up to 1,787 total cases with 41 confirmed deaths and one probable death.

“Community spread is occurring among family members and some co-workers, but most often with no specific known source,” Stevens said. “Avoiding large gatherings, maintaining a minimum of a six-foot distance between persons, proper hand hygiene and mask-wearing are critical to prevent transmission in the community.”

At Atlantic General Hospital (AGH), health care providers are seeing an increase in patients as the county’s positivity rate increases. As of Thursday, there were 21 inpatients, the most the hospital has had since the pandemic began.

“I’m really worried about the holidays,” said Nicole Morris, the hospital’s infection prevention manager. “We’re still feeling Thanksgiving. Our census increased because it’s two to three weeks past Thanksgiving.”

One positive note, however, is that generally the hospital’s COVID patients are not in the ICU.

“We’ve really refined treatment so we’re able to keep people off the ventilator,” Morris said.

Along with community spread, Worcester County’s COVID-19 figures are also impacted by an outbreak at the Worcester County Jail (WCJ). Sixteen inmates tested positive for COVID-19 during testing that took place Dec. 10 and 11, according to Worcester County Public Information Officer Kim Moses. While family members of inmates have expressed concern regarding the outbreak and COVID-19 response at the facility, Warden Donna Bounds said there were protocols in place to protect inmates and staff.

“We are committed to protecting the health and well-being of staff, inmates, and detainees at the Worcester County Jail,” Bounds said. “We’re working closely with the Maryland Department of Safety and Correctional Services (DPSCS), the Worcester County Health Department, and other state agencies to continue implementing and revising safety procedures associated with the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.”

According to Bounds, the jail has issued masks to inmates and staff, each newly arrived inmate is quarantined, staff members are screened and receive temperature checks before entering, and in-person visitation has been temporarily suspended. The jail has also “increased and expanded cleaning and sanitizing procedures” and as of Dec. 10 all inmates have been confined to their cells.

In accordance with DPSC directives, the jail conducts mandatory COVID-19 testing of staff, inmates and detainees and “is committed to providing accurate data regarding the number of positive COVID-19 cases” among correctional staff and within the inmate population. Information regarding the overall cases at the jail since its outbreak began in November is available at  https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/hcf-resources and is updated weekly.

“We are working with facilities that have outbreaks to assure recommended guidelines are followed and support facilities with infection control practices and assure testing is completed to monitor the resolution of the outbreak,” Stevens said.

covid moving case rate

Worcester County’s seven-day moving average case rate per 100,000 metric is the highest it’s been since early August.

As the county’s numbers have increased in recent weeks, health care officials are excited about the distribution of the new COVID-19 vaccine. At AGH, which is sharing its distribution of the Pfizer vaccine with TidalHealth Peninsula Regional, staff vaccinations begin Friday. Morris expects a third of the hospital’s staff to be vaccinated by Tuesday.

She stressed that the arrival of the vaccine didn’t mean folks should relax their efforts to prevent the spread of the virus. She pointed out that the first phase of vaccine recipients would essentially only include frontline workers. She’s hopeful the vaccine might be available to the public in the spring. In the meantime, she stressed that citizens should continue to social distance and wear masks covering their nose and mouth.

“Hopefully once production ramps up it’ll be more readily available,” she said.

Even once the vaccine is available to the public, Morris says it will be challenging to ensure everyone gets vaccinated properly, as it is a two-step process.

“Immunity comes seven days after the second vaccine,” she said.

While the hospital is not making the vaccine mandatory for staff because of its emergency use authorization, AGH officials are encouraging all employees to get vaccinated.

About The Author: Charlene Sharpe

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Charlene Sharpe has been with The Dispatch since 2014. A graduate of Stephen Decatur High School and the University of Richmond, she spent seven years with the Delmarva Media Group before joining the team at The Dispatch.