St. Mary’s commissioners reconvened as the board of health during their meeting on Tuesday, and received health updates regarding new information on COVID-19 and the local collaborative response.

Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for St. Mary’s, told commissioners positive cases in St. Mary’s have now surpassed 800. According to the health department website, as of Wednesday morning 814 cases have been recorded in the county. Out of 52 fatalities, at least two-thirds are associated with the outbreak at the Charlotte Hall Veteran’s Home, Brewster said.

“Our new cases have been raising as we are seeing more people coming together in groups, traveling to states where COVID rates are higher than here and spending more time in indoor spaces like bars and restaurants,” she said.

She mentioned the state calculates local positivity rates on a seven day rolling average, dividing positive tests with the number of tests taken but locally that data is refined to better reflect regional impacts of the virus.

“Our rate for that is at 5% and has been increasing over the past handful of weeks,” she said.

She shared the health department is putting out later this week a “new COVID-19 community dashboard,” which will have “more data points than what was offered thus far,” including the local positivity rate and information on new cases. It will be available on the health department’s website.

Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) asked if hospitalization rates were increasing as well, with the health officer responding hospitalization data is a statewide metric and they were decreasing “up until more recently” when the trend flattened out.

“More and more we are learning that this virus has some potential long-term health impacts,” even for people who “did not end up in a hospital bed,” she said, which was not known just a few months ago.

While the county has completed its goal of testing 10% of the population, Brewster said the new goal set by the health department is to test 15% of the population.

“I do encourage residents to get tested, particularly those with any symptoms of COVID-19, she said, Additionally, residents should get tested if: they have been exposed to someone with the virus or someone who is experiencing symptoms; have had interactions with the public or large groups of people; are working in a profession where they are exposed to a lot of people; and when they return from travel to areas with a surge of the virus.

Brewster recommended those who travel to self-quarantine for two weeks upon return and monitor for symptoms. If symptoms occur, that individual should get tested within 24 to 42 hours. Those who do not experience symptoms should still consider getting tested about five days after they return.

There are several ways to get tested, Brewster said. A resident can contact their primary care physician to order a test or they can visit the drive-thru testing at MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital, along with the daily testing site at the U-Haul plaza off of Great Mills Road. Due to extreme heat this week, those hours at the U-Haul plaza testing site have been changed to 8 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Evening and weekend hours are being looked at to provide even more opportunities for testing, she claimed.

Residents can also call the COVID-19 hotline at 301-475-4911 to speak with a health department nurse or set up a test.

Since there has been a large volume of COVID-19 tests coming into labs from all around the country, Brewster said results are taking about four to ten days to come back.

She imparted several key messages to commissioners and the public such as avoid travel, wear face coverings and continue to social distance.

“We have months ahead of us, the pandemic isn’t going away,” she said. “It’s not time to cast aside our masks or socialize indoors.”

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