This article has been updated. It initially listed Cedar Lane Senior Living Community as a facility with an active outbreak of cases. That residential facility for senior citizens does not have an outbreak, nor is it a long-term care facility.
A health official on Tuesday warned of potential dire impacts from the upcoming flu season overlapping with the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
St. Mary’s commissioners convened at their meeting earlier this week as the board of health, and received updates from Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for the county. She said there have been over 1,220 confirmed cases of coronavirus in the county so far, along with 57 deaths of county residents and 27 deaths in the county of non-county residents, primarily people living at Charlotte Hall Veterans Home and other nursing homes. Over 18% of the population in St. Mary’s has been tested.
Brewster mentioned the health department is beginning to see COVID-19 cases showing up as a result of Labor Day weekend, when people attended large social gatherings and traveled out of state. In addition, three long-term care facilities in the county are experiencing active outbreaks.
Free COVID-19 testing centers are available in Leonardtown and Lexington Park from 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays. Brewster encouraged residents to bring their health insurance cards if they have them, but said uninsured individuals will still have access to no-cost testing.
She said while last Saturday, testing was available at the Charlotte Hall Farmer’s Market, pop-up testing events will continue to appear in the county. A pop-up site in Ridge is being planned for next week.
“There are a variety of testing options,” she said, after recommending anyone experiencing COVID-19 symptoms should consider getting tested within 48 hours and anyone who may have been exposed to the virus get tested within four to six days.
Although the COVID-19 community hotline has been transferred to the health department’s main line at 301-475-4330 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Mondays through Fridays, Brewster made it clear health department staff will still be available to answer questions related to the virus.
With some children beginning to go back to school starting next week, four “back-to-school clinics” will be offered to provide vaccines to any child up to age 18, Brewster said, since COVID-19 has made it harder for kids to get immunizations that are required for childcare and school access.
Drive-thru dates are Sept. 18, 19, 23 and 26 from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the health department’s main building in Leonardtown. Vaccines to prevent tetanus, meningitis, chicken pox, human papillomavirus will be offered. Appointments are required and can be made for free at www.marylandvax.org.
“We are entering the annual cold and flu season … it carries more weight this year,” Brewster claimed, pointing out the flu has similar symptoms as COVID-19 and the possibility for an individual to test positive for both at the same time. “It is especially important this year” to get a flu vaccination, she said, as the impact of both viruses is a “great concern.”
The flu vaccine is over 50% effective, according to the health officer, and even those who still do get the flu after receiving vaccination often experience milder symptoms and are not sick as long.
Commissioner Todd Morgan (R) asked how someone would be able to tell the difference between the flu and COVID-19, with Brewster responding it “is a challenge to distinguish between the two,” but a person experiencing symptoms will most likely get tested for both.
St. Mary’s County government also announced this week that voting centers and drop box locations for ballots have been approved for the 2020 General Election. The number of locations to vote will be reduced dramatically due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Locations include the Hollywood firehouse, Leonardtown High School, Great Mills High School, Margaret Brent Middle School, Spring Ridge Middle School, Lexington Park Elementary School and Lettie Marshall Dent Elementary School. Early voting will be available at the Hollywood Firehouse Oct. 26 through Nov. 2.