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12 new COVID-19 cases push Carroll County’s weekly total above officials’ preferred max for reopening schools

With 12 new COVID-19 cases announced Thursday and two days to go, Carroll County’s weekly total has exceeded the maximum level that the Carroll County Health Department wants to see in order to avoid “higher risk” for transmission when school buildings reopen.

The dozen cases, all among members of the community outside congregate living facilities, bring this week’s case total, from Sunday through Thursday, to 43. That’s one case above the maximum that the health department advises in order for risk of COVID-19 transmission in schools to be “moderate,” based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

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The Carroll County Board of Education on Wednesday night reaffirmed its commitment to reopening school buildings under a hybrid instruction model — half of students on Mondays and Tuesday, the other half on Thursdays and Fridays — on Oct. 19, despite some concerns about the current level of virus spread in the community.

Based on the CDC guidance, Carroll County remains in the “high risk” level of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, being spread within school buildings and would need to stay below a weekly rate of 42 cases in order to lower that risk level to “moderate,” according to the health department. The most recent week when Carroll stayed under that level was the week of Aug. 23, when there were 37 cases.

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The 42-case maximum recommended by the health department include cases that originate from congregate living facilities, but there have only been six since Sept. 1. Congregate living facilities accounted for most cases in the first weeks after the pandemic struck in March but have seen few in recent weeks. But those facilities, which include nursing homes, group homes and correctional facilities, still account for most of Carroll’s deaths from the virus — 130 of 147.

After 88 cases were confirmed the week of Aug. 30, the weekly rate declined each week until last week, which was higher than both the prior week’s 44 and the total of 53 the week of Sept. 13.

County Health Officer Ed Singer, speaking to the Board of County Commissioners on Thursday, said he couldn’t explain what’s causing the increase in cases being seen this week and the last. He’d be comfortable with reopening school buildings under a “moderate” risk level, he said, but it’s not clear when the county will get to that level.

“Every time we open something else up it causes us to have an increase in cases,” he said, adding that the health department will support the school system as best it can, even if it’s a struggle.

“This is not going to be an easy ask from any part of this situation,” he said.

The 18- to 29-year-old age group did not have the highest rate of new cases the week of Sept. 27 — according to the most recent data shared by the health department Thursday — for the first time since the week of Aug. 9. The 45-64 age group was the highest the week of Sept. 27, with the 18-29 age group in second.

Singer also gave a reminder that wearing cloth face masks has been shown to be effective at limiting the spread of droplets through which the virus is disseminated.

The number of intensive care units being used to treat COVID-19 patients in Carroll rose to 11, above the benchmark of 10 that the health department considers acceptable, as of Oct. 3 — the latest data made available by the health department Thursday.

Carroll’s positivity rate, reported as a seven-day rolling average, stayed essentially flat through Wednesday, at 1.88%. The statewide rate that Maryland reports declined Wednesday to 2.79%.

The health department reported three more probable cases of COVID-19, bringing that number to 76. These “probable” cases stem from Carroll countians who tested positive with what’s called an antigen test, rather than a molecular test like those offered at state-run testing sites, so the department doesn’t consider these results as confirmed cases.

Singer said Thursday that some people choose not to get a molecular test if an antigen test already came back positive and they’re experiencing symptoms.

To date, 1,225 Carroll countians have been released from isolation, an increase of 43 since Wednesday. The number of community members who have been hospitalized for COVID-19 since the beginning of the pandemic remained at 127.

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McDaniel College again had no new cases among members of the campus community to add to the 15 positive results that have been reported out of 2,169 total tests conducted since Aug. 14.

Of the 1,360 community members to test positive in Carroll, 27 are younger than 10 years old; 177 are in the 10-19 range; 298 are 20-29 years old; 163 are 30-39; 200 are 40-49; 269 are 50-59; 144 are 60-69; 46 are 70-79; 34 are 80-89; and two are in their 90s. Women have accounted for 701 of the positive tests, and men 659.

According to health department data, Carroll has now seen 2,043 total cases. Westminster has seen the most with 678 across two ZIP codes, followed by Sykesville/Eldersburg with 535, Mount Airy with 258, Manchester with 141, Hampstead with 98, Finksburg with 94, Taneytown with 76, New Windsor with 43, Marriottsville with 35, Keymar with 30, Woodbine with 27 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.

Carroll County Times reporter Mary Grace Keller contributed to this article.

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