St. Mary’s commissioners convened as the board of health at a meeting this week to receive updates regarding COVID-19 in the county, as well as the progress of vaccine distribution.
“We appear to be entering into the expected post-holiday surge,” Dr. Meena Brewster, health officer for the county, told commissioners. As of Wednesday morning 3,826 total cases have been confirmed in St. Mary’s since the start of the pandemic last March, with 83 fatalities among county residents and 33 in the county among non-county residents.
With the new case rate up to 30 per 100,000 people, the county has seen a “sharp increase in COVID-19 related hospitalizations in December,” Brewster said, adding “those did start coming down but we are seeing a little bit of an uptick [again] now.”
She mentioned “despite, our max vaccine efforts, we’re able to keep both COVID-19 testing sites open, referring to the Bay District firehouse in Lexington Park and the St. Mary’s health department’s main office in Leonardtown. Both open from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Mondays through Fridays with walk-up and drive-thru testing available.
As of Wednesday morning, 1,663 vaccinations were given, according to the health department’s data dashboard, although Brewster said that information is a little delayed and that number is likely to be higher. Those interested in updates about local vaccine efforts should visit www.smchd.org/covid-19-vaccine.
“So far we’ve been able to use up all the supply we’ve gotten at the health department,” the health officer said, but mentioned more vaccine supply is due to the department soon.
While the vaccine is being offered to residents in phases, she noted the county, as well as the state, are in Phase 1a, which includes MedStar St. Mary’s Hospital and outpatient staff, county health department and all other health care personnel, first responders, the judicial system, the department of defense and staff and residents at long-term care facilities.
She discussed the national pharmacy partnership, which helps to assist with staffing to get the vaccine in the hands of long-term care facilities through Walgreens and CVS pharmacy workers.
“St. Mary’s Nursing Center has received its first does of the vaccine,” she said. Chesapeake Shores in Lexington Park received its doses on Wednesday and the Charlotte Hall Veterans Home is scheduled to receive the vaccine on Jan. 13.
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) asked about the number of people in Phase 1a who have opted out of taking the vaccine. Brewster replied she is not sure of the exact number but said they’ve “received a pretty good response” and have vaccinated over 900 people in the past week alone.
As more and people receive the vaccine, she said she expects “those who made the decision not to get vaccinated” will then make the decision to get vaccinated.
The health officer claimed the county and the state look closely to national recommendations when it comes to prioritizing groups for vaccinations.
Although she said the county is ready locally to move into Phase 1b, which would include adults 75 years of age or older and some other occupational categories such as postal workers, child care workers, public transit and educators, “if the state has not put forward a plan or rollout for particular phases, we cannot move forward. We need their permission.”
The following stage, Phase 1c, would include adults between the ages of 65 and 74 years old, adults between 18 and 64 years old with certain medical conditions, and a number of other occupations, while Phase 2 would likely consist of persons between 16 and 64 years of age or older.
Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) suggested writing a letter to the state, urging for more local authority over when to move forward through the phases with other commissioners agreeing.
Brewster reminded residents who are interested in receiving the vaccine must complete the survey on the health department website and pre-register once they are invited before showing up to a mass vaccination site.
During a press conference Tuesday evening, Gov. Larry Hogan (R) claimed in the last three weeks, the state has already successfully allocated, deployed and distributed 270,150 doses of vaccine “directly into the hands of … hospitals, nursing homes and local health departments.”
With the current rate of allocation, the governor said he anticipates the state will be able to move forward into Phase 1b by the end of January and Phase 1c “sometime in March.”
Later in Tuesday’s meeting, Dr. Stephen Micheals, senior vice president of Medstar St. Mary’s Hospital, attended the meeting to share with commissioners how the local hospital has been doing with vaccine distribution. He said since receiving their vaccine supply, they vaccinate about 125 people a day and mentioned they were one of 28 hospitals in Maryland to initially get the vaccine.
“I have not seen one physician who has not decided to take the vaccine,” he said. “I do believe better days are coming … as time passes [COVID-19] is going to wane as a public health issue … until then, I’m wearing a mask.”