Carroll County went more than seven weeks without seeing a single COVID-19 fatality among county residents living outside congregate living facilities. But on Thursday, health officials announced for the second straight day that a community member has died.
Before Wednesday, the previous death attributed to COVID-19 that originated outside congregate living facilities was announced Aug. 24. Those facilities, which include nursing homes, group homes and correctional facilities, account for 130 of 149 Carroll’s deaths from the virus, as well as the county’s most recent deaths before Wednesday — two that were reported Sept. 28.
Health department spokesperson Rachel Turner said both residents whose deaths were announced this week were older than 65. “We cannot disclose much information about the deaths to protect the identities of the deceased,” she said.
Almost all of those who have died from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, have been 65 or older, health department data shows. Sixteen victims were between the ages of 45 and 64, and one was between 18 and 44. The number of cases seen among the 65-and-older age group roughly tripled from the week of Sept. 27 to the week of Oct. 4, according to a health department visualization that was updated Thursday.
The Carroll County Health Department also announced 13 new cases among community members Thursday, bringing the week’s total to 42 cases, from Sunday through Thursday. This week remains on pace to finish with a total close to last week, when there were 68 cases. At this point last week, 31 cases had been reported for the week.
The county’s weekly totals have climbed since the week of Sept. 20, which saw 45 cases — the lowest weekly level since there were 37 the week of Aug. 23. Prior to last week’s 68 cases, there were 63 the week of Sept. 27.
Carroll County’s weekly COVID-19 total has for six straight weeks exceeded the maximum level that the health department wants to see in order to avoid “higher risk” for virus transmission among reopened school buildings. Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, Carroll County remains in the “high risk” level of COVID-19 being spread within school buildings and would need to stay below a weekly rate of 42 total cases in order to lower that risk level to “moderate,” according to the health department. The 42-case maximum recommended by the health department includes cases that originate from congregate living facilities, but there have been few in recent weeks.
The Carroll County Board of Education decided Wednesday night to reopen school buildings on Oct. 19 to students under a hybrid model — half of students on Mondays and Tuesday, the other half on Thursdays and Fridays — but not for high schoolers.
The county’s 14-day rolling average of community cases has risen in early October, through Oct. 9, according to the most recent data provided by the health department.
During the Board of County Commissioners' Thursday meeting, Commissioner Ed Rothstein, R-District 5, spoke about the need for Carroll countians to follow rules about wearing masks, especially indoors, where the virus can more easily spread through airborne droplets. He wants to ensure that those most vulnerable to the disease are protected and that they don’t get disease from people who aren’t willing to wear masks.
“We as leaders must do what’s right and maintain integrity whether people are watching or not,” he said.
Health department spokesperson Maggie Kunz echoed Rothstein’s sentiment, speaking of a community responsibility to protect the most vulnerable and work to slow spread. Preventing deaths from the coronavirus is a top priority, she said, but preventing infections is as well.
Social distancing and mask wearing are not perfect mitigation strategies but they’re the best tools available, she said. She acknowledged that people are tired off these measures but it’s important for the community to keep up with them.
Carroll’s positivity rate, reported as a seven-day rolling average, declined slightly, to 1.84% as of Wednesday. The statewide rate that Maryland reports stayed essentially flat at 3.08%.
The health department reported two more probable cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, but one more probable case was confirmed, bringing the current total to 84. These “probable” cases stem from Carroll countians who tested positive using a rapid antigen test, rather than a molecular test like those offered at state-run testing sites. The department doesn’t consider these results to be confirmed cases.
The health department now considers Copper Ridge in Sykesville to have a reopened outbreak after a case was confirmed Tuesday among a staffer who lives outside Carroll. That facility has seen a total of six staffers, half of them Carroll residents, test positive, as well as eight residents.
To date, 1,308 Carroll countians have been released from isolation, an increase of 12 since Wednesday.
The number of community members who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic increased by one, to 128. Kunz said the number of intensive care beds in use had been close to 10 this week. The health department considers 10 to be a benchmark, with hospital resources possibly strained if the figure exceeds 10 for days in a row.
McDaniel College has seen 16 members of its campus community test positive out of a total of 2,309 tests that have been conducted since Aug. 14.
Of the 1,429 community members to test positive in Carroll, 27 are younger than 10 years old; 184 are in the 10-19 range; 309 are 20-29 years old; 177 are 30-39; 209 are 40-49; 279 are 50-59; 152 are 60-69; 55 are 70-79; 35 are 80-89; and two are in their 90s. Women have accounted for 739 of the positive tests, and men 690.
According to health department data, Carroll has now seen 2,115 total cases. Westminster has seen the most with 712 across two ZIP codes, followed by Sykesville/Eldersburg with 549, Mount Airy with 261, Manchester with 142, Hampstead and Finksburg with 101 each, Taneytown with 79, New Windsor with 45, Marriottsville with 36, Keymar and Woodbine with 30 each, and Union Bridge with 19. Data is not released in ZIP codes with seven cases or fewer.
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.
Times reporter Mary Grace Keller contributed to this article.