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Coronavirus

Baltimore County Executive Olszewski tests positive for COVID, says he has no symptoms

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. tested positive for COVID-19, he said in a Tuesday tweet, another public sign of the latest coronavirus surge taking hold across Maryland.

Olszewski, 39, said he doesn’t have any symptoms and is working from his Miller’s Island home while quarantined. He said he’s coordinated with the Health Department to notify any close contacts who may have been exposed.

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Olszewski received his first two doses of the Moderna vaccine in February and March, spokesman Sean Naron said. He got his booster shot in October.

It’s not clear when or where Olszewski may have contracted the virus. Olszewski lives with his wife and 6-year-old daughter, who Naron said are both vaccinated; neither have tested positive, Naron said.

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“This is a critical reminder of the challenges we all continue face amid the highly contagious Omicron variant,” the Dundalk Democrat wrote on Twitter.

Naron said Olszewski is tested “regularly based on his schedule.” He was most recently tested last week, and the result was negative, Naron said.

Monday Olszewski held a news conference outside the Historic Towson Courthouse with health experts and hospital officials to remind residents to take precautions against the omicron variant of the coronavirus by getting vaccinated and a booster shot. Hospital leaders painted a grim picture of county hospitals — Olszewski said that there were only 14 staffed ICU beds available across county hospitals.

“The worst is likely still to come,” he said. Over the next three to five weeks, Olszewski said hospitals are expected to see “probably the worst surge” in COVID-19 hospitalizations that they “have been throughout this entire crisis.”

Hospitalizations statewide have risen to the highest level since Feb. 8. On Tuesday, the state reported 1,392 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Olszewski’s announcement of a positive test comes the day after Gov. Larry Hogan announced that he, too, had tested positive for the virus. Spokesman Mike Ricci said Tuesday that Hogan, a Republican, is receiving monoclonal antibodies “as a precaution.”

Olszewski and Hogan have contracted the virus amid a spike in Maryland cases. The state reported more than 6,200 cases Tuesday — the most in a 24-hour period during the pandemic. Maryland’s seven-day average positivity rate of 11.64% is more than double the international standard of 5% that reflects adequate testing.

Last week, 15 of Maryland’s 24 public school systems reported their highest counts of positive coronavirus cases yet for the academic year. The increase has led Maryland schools to take precautions by moving classes online and suspending some extracurricular activities and athletics.

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And as officials warn of another winter surge, Marylanders are finding COVID-19 tests are harder to come by. Many test sites are open only a few days at condensed hours, with few night and weekend slots available. At-home test kits are expensive, if they can be found on store shelves at all.

Despite the positive test, Dr. Chris Beyrer, an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said Olszewski’s case reinforces why the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended boosters for all adults.

“What happened with [Olszewski] is actually the outcome that we want to see with boosting,” Beyrer said. “You may still get a breakthrough infection, but it’s going to be asymptomatic or mild.”

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Preliminary studies by Moderna and Pfizer/BioNTech found that the manufacturers’ boosters provided protection against the new omicron variant of the coronavirus, which has now become the dominant version of the virus in the U.S.

“We’re not as worried about infection as we are about serious disease, about hospitalization, about intubation, about death,” Beyrer said.

For Marylanders considering how to safely see their loved ones this holiday season, Beyrer said testing is key, especially in families with elderly or immunocompromised individuals or children under 5, who are not yet eligible for the vaccine.

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“Everybody should be fully vaccinated and have a booster as soon as they can,” he said. “Testing before people get together, particularly for people under 5, can really reduce everyone’s risk.”

Ultimately, he said, families must make their own decisions to prevent exposure, and families with immunocompromised or elderly members should take extra precautions; that might mean masking up or gathering outside if weather permits, Beyrer said.

“People are going to have to be very clear with their loved ones who are refusing to be immunized that it’s just not safe to be together,” he said. “Because there’s just so much transmission underway.”

Baltimore Sun reporters Pamela Wood and Meredith Cohn contributed to this article.


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