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Carroll County health officer disputes commissioner’s opinion on masks and COVID-19

The head of the Carroll County Health Department issued a statement Tuesday contesting Commissioner Eric Bouchat and reiterating that all people, regardless of how healthy, should wear masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

In an opinion piece, which was published in the Carroll County Times July 14, Bouchat, R-District 4, suggested people who are overweight, who drink alcohol, and who use tobacco are more likely to contract COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

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Ed Singer, Carroll County health officer, issued a response in an email to the Times Tuesday, urging Carroll countians to continue using face coverings.

In his statement, Singer reiterated guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that COVID-19 primarily spreads through droplets from sneezing, coughing or even talking.

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“But not only people with symptoms can spread the disease,” Singer said in his statement. “People can be infected and have no symptoms at all. They can spread the virus without knowing they are sick, which is why all of us, even ‘healthy people,’ contrary to Commissioner Bouchat’s opinion, should wear face coverings to protect each other.”

In response to Singer’s comments, Bouchat said in a text, “… if Ed is correct in his assertions then everyone must accept wearing a mask for the rest of their lives because Ed knows there are no cures for viruses. Is this how you plan on living for the rest of your lives?”

In his column, Bouchat also suggested that spreaders of COVID-19 are people who use tobacco, drink alcohol, and are overweight. Singer’s knowledge on that subject differs.

“The Commissioner’s argument that people who are obese, use tobacco, or use alcohol are at greater risk of contracting and spreading COVID-19 is not in line with what we currently know about how this coronavirus spreads,” he said.

High blood pressure, asthma and pregnancy may also increase the risk of severe illness from COVID-19, according to Singer. He notes that about one in every three adults in the county suffers from high blood pressure. Using tobacco may also put someone at risk.

However, Singer said, “While people who are obese, as well as those with other chronic health conditions including heart failure, kidney disease, and Type 2 diabetes, are at increased risk for severe illness due to this coronavirus, they are not known to be at any increased risk of contracting or spreading it.”

Bouchat wrote in his letter that 90% of the county’s fatalities are in nursing homes. As of July 14, 89.39% of fatalities attributed to COVID-19 occurred in congregate living facilities, which includes nursing homes, but also places like group homes and correctional facilities, according to the health department’s website.

As people age, their risk for contracting severe illness from COVID-19 goes up, which is one reason why, Singer wrote, many COVID-19 cases and most of the county’s fatalities have happened in nursing homes.

Singer wrote that some of the people who argue against wearing masks are citing outdated clips of CDC and World Health Organization officials. He said more is being learned about the disease on a daily basis.

“Experts now believe that wearing face coverings in public — whether or not a person has symptoms — helps slow the spread, which helps save lives,” Singer said.

In another text, Bouchat said, “[Singer] doesn’t address the fatality rate being lower than overdose deaths and we are not shutdown for that now are we?”

The county has now seen a total of 1,209 cases of COVID-19, 560 of which have been confirmed among members of the wider community outside of congregate living facilities. Three more Carroll countians, all living outside congregate living facilities, contracted COVID-19 since Monday, the county health department announced Tuesday.

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The health department reported no new deaths from the disease Tuesday.

One case previously classified as a community case was determined to be a case of a Carroll resident who works at the Lorien Mount Airy nursing facility, a health department spokesperson said. A total of 18 staffers, seven from Carroll, have contracted the disease there, as well as 14 residents.

Aside from that reclassified case, no new cases have been confirmed at congregate living facilities since July 6. That total stands at 649, and 118 of those cases have resulted in deaths.

The county’s positivity rate, or the rate at which tests of Carroll residents return positive, dropped for the fifth day in a row: 2.1% as of July 14. The positivity rate is reported as a seven-day rolling average based on data from the Maryland Department of Health. The statewide rate is 4.64%.

Of the 560 community members to test positive, 12 are younger than 10 years old; 32 are in the 10-19 range; 97 are 20-29 years old; 79 are 30-39; 87 are 40-49; 146 are 50-59; 74 are 60-69; 19 are 70-79; and 14 are 80-89. Women have accounted for 277 of the positive tests, and men 283. In cases where race is known, 87% of those testing positive have been white, 7% have been Black and 6% are considered “Other.” Where ethnicity is known, 17% are Hispanic.

The number of hospitalizations for the disease remained at 84.

According to health department data, Westminster has the most cases in Carroll, with 396 across two ZIP codes, followed by Sykesville/Eldersburg with 330, Mount Airy with 187, Manchester with 88, Hampstead with 46, Taneytown with 44, Finksburg with 37, Keymar with 28, New Windsor with 23, Woodbine with 12, and Marriottsville and Union Bridge with eight each. Data is suppressed in ZIP codes with seven cases or fewer.

Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call that 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.

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