Dr. Laurence Polsky, Calvert’s health officer, admitted on Nov. 10 he was delivering his semi-annual report to the county commissioners — convening as the board of health — at a rather significant time. Polsky noted that the U.S. had eclipsed 10 million confirmed cases of the coronavirus. Within a week, that number had increased to more than 11 million.
And, the resurgence of COVID-19 comes as influenza season arrives, health officials have noted.
“COVID plus flu equals bad news,” Polsky’s presentation graphic stated. “The confluence of both COVID and influenza certainly increases potential for both ICU [intensive care unit] admissions and deaths,” Polsky said.
In noting that the nation averaged 70,000 flu deaths during the 2017 to 2019 period, with 43 million becoming ill and 750,000 per year hospitalized, Polsky lamented that “somewhat startlingly, only 37% of adults get vaccinated.”
The seasonal flu vaccine is 50% to 60% effective, which Polsky called “still substantial.” The health officer explain that “if everyone had gotten a flu vaccine” even at 50% effective, there would be “a dramatic drop in numbers. We protect ourselves, we protect everyone else.”
The local health department conducted several free seasonal flu vaccine clinics in October and early November.
Commissioner Thomas “Tim” Hutchins (R) asked Polsky if there were any statistics on how much of Calvert’s total population was vaccinated for the seasonal flu.
“Vaccinations are fractured,” said Polsky, explaining that shots are given at clinics, doctors’ offices and pharmacies and there was no “centralized data base” in Maryland to connect the information.
“When the COVID vaccine does come about it will be critical as to how we can do those estimates,” said Hutchins.
Polsky said the initial distribution for any COVID-19 vaccine will be through hospitals and health departments. He added there will be a “limited amount of production” for the first distribution since government “does not want the vaccine sitting in a warehouse.”
Polsky conceded that some lives have been lost to COVID-19 among Calvert’s population — 12 to date, according to the county health department. However, he also pointed out the rate of COVID-related fatalities in Calvert “are five times lower than the state average. If our fatality rate was at the state average, we would have had an additional 48 deaths since March, among residents.”
The state health department, which calculates deaths differently than the county health department, lists 29 confirmed deaths and one possible death related to COVID-19 in Calvert County.
Polsky credited the county’s early proactivity in protecting nursing homes, county residents’ diligence in wearing face masks and adhering to social distancing parameters, and a strong public health/private medicine partnership.
Regarding the first point, Polsky did note during the previous week the county experienced its first nursing home coronavirus “breakout. To this point, no deaths,” he reported.
Other proactive measures on Calvert’s COVID-19 front included continued operation of a drive-up testing site — with one currently located at the College of Southern Maryland’s Prince Frederick campus — and the health department’s receipt of a “bulk order of “rapid test” kits.
Following other health trends in the county
Polsky had other positive trends to share with the board. He noted Calvert’s fetal and infant mortality numbers fell 32% from 2010—2014 to 2014—2018, a development the health officer called “very significant.”
While drug overdose deaths were up 8.6% statewide in 2020 compared to 2019, Polsky said in Calvert County the number is down 9.1%.
Opioids such as fentanyl continue to be the top substance responsible for overdose deaths statewide, according to data from the Opioid Operation Command Center.
Polsky pointed out that Calvert has four drug treatment locations, in Chesapeake Beach, Prince Frederick, Barstow and Lusby.
He added that the health department has been partnering with the local adult drug court and the Calvert County Detention Center in a battle against drug abuse.
Polsky drew praise from Hutchins at the end of the presentation for his leadership in dealing with many ongoing public health issues.
“You’ve led us to a good an outcome as we can expect,” Hutchins said.