COVID-19 numbers continue to climb

This slide shown to Charles commissioners on Tuesday shows a rapid increase in cases in the county due to the highly contagious omicron variant.

A public hearing for emergency legislation on whether to reinstate a mask mandate on private businesses in Charles County has been rescheduled for Jan. 18 at 4:30 p.m., following a 4 p.m. discussion on the topic.

County commissioners voted unanimously for the new date after the previously scheduled meeting was moved to Jan. 4 from its original date due to a surge in cases from the omicron variant. However, poor conditions from last week’s snowstorm that dumped nearly a foot of snow across the county led to the postponement of that meeting.

Wesley Adams, county attorney, said that the emergency legislation was “quick enough to have a bearing on public health and safety.”

The Jan. 18 date was chosen in order to meet guidelines that require a notice of three days for emergency legislation to give the public a chance to send in comments before the public hearing.

The mandate would require a supermajority to be enacted.

If passed, the mandate would not apply for municipalities such as La Plata, Indian Head and Port Tobacco, which could make their own decisions regarding masks.

Commissioners stressed the idea of the mandate was in the interest of public health.

“We’re taking this seriously and we want to keep everybody safe,” Commissioner Gilbert “BJ” O. Bowling III (D) said.

Commissioner Thomasina O. Coates (D) implored citizens to take wearing a mask seriously during this new COVID-19 surge.

“I think we’ve gotten very relaxed and we need to be a little more conscientious of our surroundings,” Coates said.

While there is no current mandate, private businesses can still enforce their own mask mandate.

The decision to rescheduled followed a weekly COVID-19 update from Dr. Dianna Abney, Charles’ health officer, which provided staggering new numbers on the spread of the new, highly transmissible omicron variant.

In the last week, over 2,000 new cases of COVID-19 and eight deaths had been recorded in Charles County, Abney said.

In a 24-hour period from Monday to Tuesday, 223 new cases were recorded.

Positivity and case rates perk 100,000 also spiked to levels higher than when the pandemic first began, with the positivity rate seated at 34.6% and the case rate per 100,000 at a 190.9.

While both figures were more than enough to place the county in the high transmission zone on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data tracker, those numbers are lower than last week’s readings of 36.3% and 235.14.

The CDC recommends citizens in areas of high or substantial COVID-19 transmission to wear a mask in public, indoor settings.

Abney said the spike in numbers was due in large part to the high transmission rate of the omicron variant as well as weariness from two years of pandemic-related social distancing measures.

“We know that omicron is highly transmissible and we know that people are less likely to wear their mask,” Abney said.

The high transmission rates during the omicron surge led the University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center to declare a state of emergency for the hospital on Dec. 30.

The move allowed the hospital to move into crisis standards of care, which allows greater flexibility in order to continue to provide a high standard of care.

“This continues to be the most challenging period at the hospital since the pandemic began,” Craig Renner, communications director at University of Maryland Charles Regional Medical Center, said.

Renner also stressed the importance of vaccines, stating that 75% of COVID-positive patients in the University of Maryland hospital system were unvaccinated.

The county commissioners also decided to postpone a possible return to in-person public meetings until the end of February due to the omicron surge.

Twitter: @DarrylSoMdNews

Twitter: @DarrylSoMdNews