St. Mary’s College of Maryland held a virtual panel Wednesday afternoon, where professors and more than 30 community members discussed public health partnerships in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic.
As of Thursday morning, the county had recorded 615 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and 48 deaths, according to the St. Mary's health department.
However, 56 deaths have been recorded at the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home. The discrepancy comes because family members are allowed to decide which jurisdiction the death is counted. According to the latest information, 27 of those 56 deaths were counted as outside of St. Mary's. That could mean there were more than two dozen additional deaths related to COVID-19 in St. Mary's County beyond what the health department is reporting.
The panel, presented by the college’s Center for the Study of Democracy, focused on the partnership formed between the county’s health department and the college. Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for the county, said she reached out to leadership at the college a few years ago to develop a model which would allow them to “focus on a few common goals and services for the community.”
Bill Roberts, professor of anthropology, mentioned there was a meeting in May 2019 where many faculty members were present to discuss different opportunities for collaboration.
In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, the two entities began working together to implement several programs to aid the community. Although collaborations existed prior to the pandemic, COVID-19 “helped pave the way for this in February and March when things got bad locally,” Brewster said.
Samantha Elliot, professor of biology, mentioned the wastewater monitoring system, a method of detecting the novel coronavirus in local wastewater before outbreaks. The St. Mary’s County Metropolitan Commission is providing wastewater samples from all county wastewater treatment plants to the college, and the health department is supporting laboratory supplies so faculty from the biology department can process the samples.
Elliot also noted the efforts of the scientific advisory group, made up of faculty and other local experts. She said the college was approached by Brewster for this opportunity.
“It becomes harder and harder to keep up with the evolving” information that continues to be released,” she said. They sift through increasing publications and “use combined expertise to synthesize common themes” in COVID-19 related works and studies that help with formal decision making regarding public health.
Brewster said it’s a “challenge to keep up with thousands of scientific articles” and the advisory group “tries to get information out into the community” as quickly and efficiently as they can.
Troy Townsend, professor of chemistry, said Kevin Emerson, a professor of biology, along with several students have been involved in creating 3D printed face shields for caretakers and nursing home residents in the county. He said their goal is to make 1,000 face shields to give to the health department and 500 to use at the college to help with reopening the campus for the fall semester. They are able to print 12 face shields a day, with three printers running for 24 hours a day. The Patuxent Partnership donated one of the 3D printers, Townsend said before mentioning the more printers they have access to, the more face shields they can create in a shorter period of time.
“Science indicates [the virus] will not permanently go away,” and “we still have questions about how long it will be with us,” Brewster said, but “we must prepare public health” to continues disease investigation and containment in an increased capacity.
She encouraged residents to continue social distancing, stay away from others who are sick and self-isolate if experiencing symptoms. Cloth face masks are still recommended in public places, but users should be cautious wearing a mask if they are “vigorously physically active” outside during the summertime to avoid heat-related health issues, she said.