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First cases confirmed in St. Mary’s

Dr. Meena Brewster

Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for St. Mary’s County.

The new coronavirus known as COVID-19 has reached St. Mary’s County.

As numbers of positive cases throughout the state have increased by the dozens every week, and over 300 cases in Maryland as of Tuesday afternoon, St. Mary’s health department announced Saturday afternoon, March 21, that the first county resident to test positive is a woman in her 20s, currently self-isolating.

Yesterday morning, the health department announced that it had confirmed two additional St. Mary’s residents tested positive for the novel coronavirus — a woman in her 20s who may have contracted the virus while traveling domestically, and a man in his 20s whose method of exposure is still being determined.

Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for St. Mary’s health department, spoke at a press conference late Saturday afternoon at the government building in Leonardtown along with Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) and Steve Walker, director of the county’s emergency services. Brewster said her department is actively investigating to see if the patient has been a risk to other county residents by “reaching out to everyone who was in close contact.”

According a press release sent Monday afternoon, the first resident who tested positive may have come in contact with community members in Wildewood center in Calilfornia, at Outback Steakhouse’s bar area on March 10 between 5 and 6 p.m.

“Community members who were also at this location during the specified date/times may be at some risk for acquiring COVID-19,” the release states. They instructed those members to self-monitor for fever, cough, shortness of breath or flu-like symptoms for 14 days, stay at home as much as possible and call the COVID-19 community hotline at 301-475-4911.

“As testing locally expands, we expect to see a significant rise in positive cases of COVID-19,” Brewster said at the conference.

The press conference followed an earlier release from the health department Saturday that announced a Washington, D.C., resident who works at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, had tested positive for the disease. That individual is a woman in her 40s who is isolating in her D.C. home, is currently symptomatic, and is being monitored by the D.C. health department.

MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital has started a drive-thru testing mechanism, which restarted this week from noon to 4 p.m.

She later added there are plans statewide to have more drive-thru testing sites, and St. Mary’s health department is working with local primary care offices to offer testing at those facilities.

“Despite a national shortage of testing supplies, we have been working to expand testing locally,” she said.

She added that testing works best when an individual has symptoms like shortness of breath, a fever and a cough. If a person has mild symptoms, it is best to stay home and away from others.

Brewster said she has visited every nursing home in the county and is “confident their actions have been well thought out and ready and prepared for what may be ahead.” Brewster added it is imperative to continue to protect seniors and those who have chronic illnesses.

She later said if the governor implemented a shelter-in-place order, it would make a great impact and they would try to maximize distancing people who are ill. The governor stopped just short of that order on Monday, instead announcing that non-essential businesses close and people stay home as much as possible.

“At this time, the most important action our community can take is following the prevention strategy,” she added.

She reminded listeners to wash their hands, cover their cough, stay more than 6 feet away from one another, especially if that person is sick and older than 60, and to avoid gatherings of 10 people or more.

Walker said there are some cases where people are having cookouts and other events, where sheriff’s deputies had to intervene, but for the most part, people are following the social distancing rules.

Brewster said the health department staff has been “working 24/7” while reducing certain services so staff can fully pay attention to the pandemic.

The health department said residents can call its hotline at 301-475-4911 Mondays through Saturdays from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. if they have questions or concerns.

“We may see significant impacts in the weeks and months ahead, but I’m confident we’ve done everything we can,” Brewster said.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please, please don’t panic. Please stay calm,” Walker said.

“We area all in this together and together we will get through this,” Guy said.

On Monday, the health department and county government put out a request for donations of certain medical supplies, including nasal swabs, facemasks, medical gloves, isolation and surgical gowns, face shields and goggles, respirators, hand sanitizer, infrared thermometers and other items. Local medical providers or others who have these items can call 301-475-4200, ext. 72120, from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday to arrange dropoff details.

“This call for donations is for long term planning and preparedness — to ensure that our local healthcare workforce and emergency medical services have an abundance of stock to pull from in the future, if needed. Supply stock is present for current needs and supplemental stock has been ordered,” according to a release.

Community members, including any health care professionals, who want to volunteer to assist with the COVID-19 response should register through the Medical Reserve Corps Network Road to Readiness initiative at https://mdr.health.maryland.gov/Pages/RoadtoReadiness.aspx.

For more information on local virus updates, visit www.smchd.org/coronavirus.

Twitter: @KristenEntNews

Twitter: @KristenEntNews

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