Confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus are dropping to new lows in St. Mary’s and throughout the country, St. Mary’s Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster told county commissioners during their regular briefing on Tuesday.
St. Mary’s confirmed a total of just 16 cases last week, and is now running at a case rate of less than two new cases per 100,000 people in a seven-day rolling average, numbers which haven’t been seen since the health department began counting case rates in late March 2020.
“The new case rates have actually been dropping in each age category,” Brewster said, “which is an awesome trend.”
Hospitalizations from St. Mary’s residents affected with COVID-19 are still higher than some points last year, but Brewster pointed out hospitalization data tends to lag case rate data by “a few weeks.”
Health officials are concerned about hospitalizations rising in younger people, who are getting sicker from variant viruses.
“We have much higher vaccine rates in our seniors,” she said. “Since we have lower vaccine rates in our younger people, we’re starting to see their presence in hospitals more.”
As of Tuesday, the health department had tracked that 87.2% of St. Mary’s seniors over 65 had received at least their first dose of the vaccine. And, 52.2% of adults under 18 had received at least their first dose, while 9.9% of those ages 12 to 17 who are eligible had received it.
Brewster said more variant cases are being identified, but only some samples are tested. The variants can be more contagious and cause stronger symptoms, even in younger people thought to be more protected against symptoms, but COVID-19 vaccines still protect against them.
“The vast majority of hospitalizations are happening in people who are not vaccinated, or who are only partly vaccinated,” the health officer said.
The county is also seeing more symptoms of “long COVID,” she said, which refers to long-term effects of having COVID-19, even after the disease essentially runs it’s course. That can include memory issues, trouble breathing, loss of smell or taste, and fatigue long after the person is not contagious.
At the end of the commissioners’ meeting, Commissioner Eric Colvin (R) said he had watched news on the COVID-19 crisis in India, where low vaccination rates and other factors of spread have lead to major outbreaks.
“What’s happening there is what we discussed here, over a year ago, about what a worst-case scenario would look like,” Colvin said.
“It’s just a terrible, terrible situation. Thankfully, we heard a really good report today from Dr. Brewster. We’re doing really good here. We’re seeing our country really starting to come out of COVID, so that’s really good news,” he added.
Commissioner Randy Guy (R) pushed for county residents to get the vaccine, noting an Anheuser-Busch plan to give a free beer to every U.S. adult of legal drinking age if the country hits a 70% vaccination rate by July 4.
“Anheuser-Busch is gonna give us all free beer if we all get vaccinated. I mean, what else could you possibly ask for?” he said.