CUMBERLAND — Virtual learning for snow days, along with the latest COVID-19 quarantine recommendations, were discussed at the Allegany County Public Schools Board meeting on Tuesday.
Allegany County Health Officer Jenelle Mayer discussed the current status of COVID-19 in the county.
“In a county of about 70,000 people, 180 people test positive for COVID-19 every day,” she said.
“(For) every (COVID-19) test done for an Allegany County resident, 29% of them come back positive,” Mayer said.
“Our vaccination rate remains low and well below the Maryland average,” she said and added that 49.3% of county residents are fully vaccinated, compared to 71% of Marylanders.
Mayer said 36.4% of county residents and 69.1% of state residents ages 12 to 17 are fully vaccinated against COVID-19.
Mayer also discussed the recently updated COVID-19 quarantine and isolation guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The council voted unanimously to follow the latest CDC recommendation, which the state has adopted, for five-day isolation periods, beginning Jan. 13.
CSPA Superintendent Jeff Blank also said the school system has sought state permission to use virtual snow days.
More than 90% of CSPA students have internet access, he said.
If approved, CSPA will provide more details, Blank said.
“It’s just one step in the process,” he said. “I don’t have a calendar.”
In other CSGA news, Crystal Bender has been selected to serve as Board Chair and Robert Farrell as Vice-Chair, for a second term.
COVID-19 cases jump
The Allegany County Health Department reported Monday that 625 Allegany County residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since Friday.
This brought the county’s cumulative total number of COVID-19 cases to 13,266.
Testing and isolation
Free COVID-19 testing is available at the Allegany County Fairgrounds from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Monday and 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Wednesday and Friday.
People who test positive for COVID-19 “should self-isolate at home for at least five full days,” the CDHA said.
“To end isolation after five days, the individual must show signs of improvement in symptoms and be fever-free for at least 24 hours without fever-reducing medication,” the statement said. “Even after isolation ends, individuals should continue to take precautions until day 10, including wearing a properly fitted mask when around other people, avoiding travel, and avoiding close contact with people at high risk.”
The “long wait” hospital
Amy Boothe is chief operating officer at Potomac Valley Hospital in Keyser, West Virginia.
On Monday, she said more than half of PVH’s emergency room visits were related to COVID-19.
“We have a full intensive care unit and only a few inpatient beds available,” Boothe said via email. “We always get patients into a room to see a provider in 10 to 15 minutes on average. Our average visit time is around 90 minutes. The long waits occur when the patient needs to be admitted to an inpatient bed, due to how full all the hospitals in the area are.
PVH does not have a designated COVID-19 waiting room, but officials were triaging patients who had tested positive for the virus “and immediately placing them into rooms,” she said.
“No visitors are permitted in the COVID-19 wards in the ER except under special circumstances such as parent (and) child,” Boothe said.
PVH recommends people with symptoms of COVID-19 speak to their primary care provider for advice, she said.
PVH staff members continue to “work to ensure that we are able to handle the volume of patients presenting to the hospital,” Boothe said. “We have spent a lot of time over the past two years cross-training and preparing so that our staff can adapt to the volume and feel safe and able to do so. We still have many vacancies in the facility, but our staff is committed to meeting the needs of the community.
Monoclonal antibodies to treat COVID-19 “came in in limited doses and we are often out of stock for those doses,” she said.
Kendra Thayer is senior vice president of patient care services, chief nursing officer and chief operating officer at Garrett Regional Medical Center.
“We are seeing a number of patients with COVID-19,” she said via email Monday. “About a quarter of our inpatient beds are COVID in various stages of recovery.”
Wait times at the GRMC emergency department varied “but can be several hours depending on the severity of the condition,” Thayer said.
“We have a separate waiting area for COVID patients (and) we don’t allow visitors with COVID patients but offer Facetime, Zoom, etc. visits,” she said.
GRMC offers monoclonal infusions for people with COVID-19, as prescribed by their primary care provider.
“If you test positive for COVID, please stay home and monitor your symptoms, and rest well,” Thayer said. “Call your primary care provider if you experience shortness of breath, chest pain, or other unusual symptoms. Please do not come to the emergency room for COVID tests.
Staff members were working overtime “but managing”, she said.
“We are experiencing staffing shortages like every other healthcare facility,” Thayer said.
UPMC Western Maryland did not provide specific information about its COVID-19 patient count, bed availability or wait times.
In the Central West region, which includes UPMC sites in Cumberland; and the Altoona, Bedford and Somerset areas of Pennsylvania, UPMC was caring for 117 hospitalized COVID-19 patients, UPMC regional spokeswoman Corinne Nicole Weaver said Monday via email.
“It’s consistent with the fact that the area’s vaccination rates are among the lowest in Maryland,” she said.
“Across UPMC, more than 75% of those hospitalized with COVID-19 have not been vaccinated; most of the rest are over 65 or have other serious conditions that limit their immunity,” Weaver said.
“Unvaccinated people who get COVID-19 are seven to 10 times more likely to end up in intensive care than vaccinated people,” she said. “People fully vaccinated, including a booster, and communities with high vaccination rates are simply safer from death and serious illness related to COVID-19.”
Anyone with a perceived emergency medical condition should go to the nearest emergency department or call 911 immediately, Weaver said.
“We need people to know that they shouldn’t be afraid to go to the emergency room if they are having a medical emergency,” she said. “We urge others with new or worsening illness and injuries that are not serious to take advantage of outpatient options.”
The emergency department “is not the place to just take a COVID-19 test,” Weaver said.
“You can get tested for COVID-19 without having to wait in line if you use our other care offerings,” she said of UPMC’s urgent care facilities, at Park des Allegany County exposures, through a primary care provider or other community resources.
“If you get sick, stay home and get tested. This will allow us to better assist you,” Weaver said.
“UPMC Western Maryland provides monoclonal antibody therapy to eligible patients based on supply availability,” she said.
“While not a treatment, UPMC Western Maryland is ready to begin administering EVUSHELD to eligible high-risk patients for pre-exposure (prevention) prophylaxis of COVID-19,” said Weaver.
“There is an increased demand for care – from COVID-19, but also a delay in other treatments during the pandemic – and our healthcare heroes are working hard to provide care to everyone in our region who needs it” , she said. “We ask for your thanks and support, patience and understanding as they work to serve you and our community.”
Garrett’s “dark milestone”
The Garrett County Health Department said it received notification of a “grim milestone” as the county recorded its 100th death attributed to COVID-19 or its related complications, the information officer said Tuesday. Public GCHD, Diane Lee, via press release.
Since December 1, 15 Garrett County residents have died from COVID-19 infections.
“We were saddened to learn that the number of lives lost to the pandemic has reached 100 in our county,” Garrett County Health Officer Bob Stephens said via statement. “Even one death is too many, and our hearts go out to those who have lost loved ones.”
Garrett County’s case rates have increased significantly over the past week, while COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to lag those in most states.
Currently, only 48% of all Garrett County residents are fully vaccinated against COVID, compared to 71% of Maryland residents and 55% of West Virginia residents.
“Vaccination remains the best strategy to prevent COVID hospitalizations and deaths,” Stephens said.
COVID-19 vaccination clinics
January 12: Allegany County Fairgrounds, 11400 Moss Ave.
Moderna Recall Clinic (18 years and over) by appointment only. Register online at https://www.marylandvax.org/appointment/en/reg/0921564101.
Moderna first and second doses (18+), Pfizer first and second doses (12+), and Pfizer booster doses (12+) are available without an appointment. No appointment is necessary.
For help registering for an appointment, county residents can call the COVID-19 Call Center at 240-650-3999.
COVID-19 vaccines and boosters are also widely available in the community at local pharmacies, urgent care clinics, and some primary care providers.
The Garrett County Health Department has vaccination clinics at its offices on Fridays at 28 Hershberger Lane in Grantsville and Tuesdays on Memorial Drive in Oakland.
Clinics take place from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
To schedule a visit by appointment www.garetthealth.org.
Walk-in appointments are also available.
State, local cases
MDH on Tuesday reported 9,693 new cases of COVID-19, 70 additional deaths and 88 additional hospitalizations statewide in the past 24 hours.
The daily case rate of COVID-19 was 27.62% statewide, 29.11% in Allegany County, 22.73% in Garrett County, and 28.11% in Washington.
The seven-day rolling average case rate per 100,000 people was 199.06 statewide, 257.65 in Allegany County, 149.5 in Garrett County and 198.87 in Washington.