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Carroll County sees single-day jump of 32 COVID-19 cases; testing up from last week

Carroll County’s week had seen the rate of new COVID-19 cases drop noticeably, but there was a single-day jump Friday.

The Carroll County Health Department announced a total of 32 new cases among members of the community outside of congregate living facilities Friday, though spokesperson Maggie Kunz specified that the results for 13 of them had been delayed.

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The health department reports cases based on the day labs report them to the department, Kunz said, and there was a longer-than-normal time in between when those 13 tests were administered and when they were reported to the department — generally, it takes about 48 hours, but those 13 tests were conducted from Aug. 5-8. Kunz was not sure what the reason was for this delay.

Through Thursday, the weekly total of community cases stood at 28, but Friday’s addition raises it to 60. Kunz said that two of the cases announced to the public this week had initially been reported to the department last week but had discrepancies that needed to be cleared up before they could be announced. So last week’s case total was retroactively raised to 62.

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The other 19 cases announced Friday were all from tests conducted this week, Kunz said.

The week’s total ties the record high, set in the early phases of the pandemic on the week of April 5, that stood until the week of July 19, when there were 97 community cases. The week after that saw an even higher total, 109. But cases have dropped far below that level in the weeks since.

County Health Officer Ed Singer has cautioned that decreased testing capacity might be a factor in that recent downturn. When the county’s testing site at the Carroll County Agriculture Center was temporarily relocated to Friendship Valley Elementary School to accommodate the Carroll County 4-H & FFA Fair, the number of people being tested declined by about half. According to Singer, about 150 tests were conducted at the temporary location last week, but the Ag Center testing site typically has seen close to 300 tests in a week.

On Tuesday, the first day that full testing capacity has been offered since July 28, 95 people were tested, according to the health department. And on Thursday, 102 tests were conducted, Kunz said. The Ag Center site will also be open on Sunday, the first time testing has been offered on a Sunday since July 26.

Kunz said she was surprised by the sharp one-day increase Friday, but cautioned that it’s important to look at the week as a whole. “You can’t call a trend on a day,” she said. Increased testing could be factor in the higher number of cases reported Friday, but Kunz said she couldn’t be sure.

In all, Carroll has seen 1,601 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus — 925 from the community and 676 from county residents who work or live in what the county defines as congregate living facilities, such as nursing homes or group homes.

Congregate living facilities accounted for Carroll’s sharpest spikes of cases earlier in the pandemic, but the pace of new facility cases has slowed to a crawl in the past month. Those facilities have accounted for 125 of the 140 deaths Carroll has seen attributed to COVID-19, though no such deaths have been announced since Aug. 3.

Carroll County’s positivity rate, or the rate at which tests of county residents return positive, stayed below 2% for the seventh straight day. The rate, 1.6% as of Thursday, is reported as a seven-day rolling average based on data from the Maryland Department of Health. The statewide rate rose Friday to 3.63%.

The World Health Organization recommends that there be a positivity rate below 5% for two weeks before governments take steps to reopen. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that states wait until they have 14 days of positivity rates under 10%, with an average of two days or less for the return of test results, before initiating a third reopening phase. Carroll’s positivity rate has been below 5% since June 5, when it was 6.33%.

Singer told the Carroll County Board of Education on Wednesday night that the positivity rate can be a somewhat unreliable measure because some people get tested for a job or before going to college, not expecting to test positive. “Our positivity rate is going down a lot. That’s a good thing, but I don’t really think that tells the story,” he said.

Of the 925 community members to test positive in Carroll, 20 are younger than 10 years old; 90 are in the 10-19 range; 183 are 20-29 years old; 121 are 30-39; 148 are 40-49; 205 are 50-59; 101 are 60-69; 35 are 70-79; 21 are 80-89; and one is in their 90s. Women have accounted for 455 of the positive tests, and men 470.

According to health department data, Westminster has the most cases in Carroll, with 540 across two ZIP codes, followed by Sykesville/Eldersburg with 429, Mount Airy with 206, Manchester with 116, Finksburg with 74, Hampstead with 65, Taneytown with 58, New Windsor with 32, Keymar with 29, Woodbine with 18, and Union Bridge and Marriottsville with 16 each. Data is not released in ZIP codes with seven cases or fewer.

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The number of residents that the health department has announced who have recovered from the disease remained at 647. The number of announced hospitalizations rose be one since Thursday, to 103.

Funding for testing

Nursing homes had until the end of the day Friday to come up with their own plans to test their staff members for the coronavirus, after Maryland’s health department announced in late July that the state would stop paying for that testing.

Marisa Zaccagnini, the county health department’s liaison to those facilities, said they are “concerned” about the new cost but have been preparing their plans in the past couple of weeks.

“We have provided them with resources and support, including a long list of laboratories to choose from, and the facilities have been working hard to develop their capacity. ... hey are moving forward to ensure they are complying with [state] requirements and protecting the health of their residents and staff,” she said.

Any facility, including assisted living facilities with more than 50 beds, that does not submit a testing agreement to the Maryland Department of Health is subject to penalties, Zaccagnini said. “All facilities have been provided with written guidance on how to obtain contractual arrangements with a laboratory and received friendly reminders from the health department,” she said.

As of Thursday evening, Zaccagnini was not aware of any Carroll facilities that had not made arrangements to satisfy the requirement.

Unemployment data

The number of Carroll countians who applied for unemployment benefits in the week ending Aug. 8 dropped to 209, down from 253 the week before, according to data released by the Maryland Department of Labor on Thursday.

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Carroll residents were applying for unemployment at rates far higher earlier in the pandemic; at the peak, 2,979 applied the week ending April 4.

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The recent levels are still above what was normal before the pandemic, which has led to an economic slowdown as measures have been put in place to limit the spread of the virus. Just 75 Carroll countians filed unemployment insurance claims the week ending March 14. The first case of COVID-19 in Carroll was announced March 13.

Since March, hundreds of thousands of Marylanders have filed for unemployment. More than 13,000 filed for unemployment for the first time last week, but that’s the state’s lowest weekly total since the week that ended March 14, when fewer than 4,000 residents filed new claims. The following week, there were more than 42,000 new claimants.

Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call the hotline between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 410-876-4848, or contact their doctor. After hours, callers may leave a message or call 211. People with emergencies should continue to call 911.

Baltimore Sun reporters Christine Condon and Nathan Ruiz contributed to this article.

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