Two key coronavirus-related numbers for Carroll County on Thursday: 18 and one — the first because the day marked the eighteenth death of a resident of a Mount Airy nursing home, the latter because Carroll County held its first-ever virtual town hall meeting to answer community questions about the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This is all about ensuring our citizens know up-to-date information on the process that everyone is working on and the ability to clear up some things they may be challenged with,” Wantz said.
Beginning at 6:30 p.m. and ultimately running until just after 8 p.m., the town hall brought together Board of County Commissioners President Stephen Wantz, R-District 1, Sheriff Jim DeWees, Carroll Hospital President Leslie Simmons, Health Officer Ed Singer and Carroll County Public Schools Superintendent Steven Lockard, each joining the conversation by video conferencing and carried live on YouTube and Comcast Channel 24.
But with the latest death of a resident of Pleasant View Nursing Home in Mount Airy — a man in his 60s with underlying health conditions, according to a county health department spokesperson — and the total number of confirmed cases in the county having risen to 205, there were many questions for the health officials on the call.
Speaking to the health department’s response to the growing number of cases at nursing homes and long-term care facilities, Singer said that just as with cases in the community, it’s important to keep patients who did not require hospitalization out of the hospitals and manage them in place.
“We are cohorting patients and trying to keep them in the same area and using a cohort of staff to deal with those patients,” he said.
One resident of Carroll Lutheran Village in Westminster has died, and another Carroll countian has died as well. At Carroll Lutheran Village, 21 residents and five staff members have tested positive, up from 18 residents and two staffers Wednesday.
A total of 85 cases — up from 77 Wednesday — have been reported among people in the “community,” that is, not residents or staff of an elder care facility. Of those 85, 39 are women and 46 are men, while one is between the ages of 10 and 19; 17 are between ages 20 and 29; seven are between ages 30 and 39; 12 between ages 40 and 49; 33 between ages 50 and 59; 10 between ages 60 and 69; three between ages 70 and 79; and two between the ages of 80 and 89.
At Pleasant View, 81 residents and 31 staff members have tested positive. COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, is particularly threatening to older populations and those with compromised health, so elder care facilities are of especially high risk.
In response to a question about age and COVID-19, Singer said that given how new the disease is, it’s been very difficult to get good data about its effect on people. But he said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have suggested age and underlying medical conditions are the major factors in how severely people are impacted.
“About 4 to 11% ... of adults in the age range of 65 to 84 years old ... die from the disease,” he said. “There are also estimates of 10 to 20% that are 85 or older die from the disease who are confirmed to have it.”
The health department’s efforts have been focused on nursing homes and other similar facilities because older populations are at such a high risk, Singer said.
Simmons noted that there are three different types of symptomatic COVID-19 patients from the hospital’s perspective: those who can stay at home and recover on their own, those who are moderately ill and may need some support at the hospital, and those who are quite seriously ill and will require a ventilator.
“We have seven patients currently on ventilators,” Simmons said. “The great news is we have someone who came in quite critically ill, who had to be put on the ventilators … they just got off yesterday and they are doing good. It’s important we do understand that people can recover from this virus — even people who are critically ill can.”
Carroll Hospital currently has 20 ventilators, Simmons said, with an additional 11 anesthesia machines that could be converted into ventilators if necessary. There are also further resources that can be pulled from LifeBridge Health, of which Carroll Hospital is a part, she told viewers.
“LifeBridge in total has 508 ventilators, and we can move them across the system," Simmons said, “for whoever needs it most.”
In preparation for a surge in the possible number of patients needing critical care, the hospital’s Shauck Auditorium has been converted into a 30-bed, negative pressure space, using special stretchers made available by the Carroll County Health Department, according to Simmons.
“That setup is now ready and waiting, and I pray to God we never have to use it,” she said. “But if we do, it’s ready to go.”
The Carroll County Agriculture Center’s Shipley Arena, meanwhile, has been surveyed by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a possible temporary hospital site to expand surge capacity to treat COVID-19 cases, something that is still under consideration, according to Wantz.
“We haven’t heard from [the Corps of Engineers],” he said, “but I want to assure people that if it would be used it would be self contained and there would be no danger, no clouds rolling over the City of Westminster.”
“It’s not different than pulling the USNS Comfort [hospital ship] up to the New York harbor to take care of patients,” Singer added. The arena is “in an ideal location; it’s right near the hospital.”
DeWees noted that people and businesses have been good about complying with the stay-at-home order from the governor and requirements of social distancing. While he has had deputies called out to Westminster City Pond several times, he said that Gov. Larry Hogan’s order allows for recreation and that, “They were staying away from each other.”
“That’s a big area … where people can actually exercise,” he said.
Law enforcement is still enforcing the law, DeWees noted, and his deputies are making arrests, but the crime rate is also down.
“Most people think that crimes and crashes are up,” he said. “We are not seeing that in Carroll County. I compared numbers through the same time period last year … we’ve seen a slight reduction.”
That being said, DeWees added that owners of businesses that are closed and considered nonessential during the pandemic are free to check in on their buildings, and are encouraged to do so.
“I did get one other question about hunting,” DeWees said. “The good news is this is Carroll County and you can hunt if you are providing food for your family. I know there are some seasons coming up.”
Lockard described successes the school system has had since the last in-school day on March 13, from distributing more than 6,000 meals to children a day to setting up thousands of virtual classrooms for remote learning.
But, he said, everyone at Carroll County Public Schools is aware that everyone is at a different place when it comes to being able to help keep their children engaged in learning while school is out.
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“We get it, we understand,” he said. “We have no expectation of perfection, we know we simply cannot use distance learning to replace our traditional face-to-face learning.”
Lockard asked parents to reach out to their children’s teachers and schools if they were having any problems or frustrations. While he said he was only speculating, he believed it very likely schools would continue to remain closed past April 24.
Nationwide, as of Thursday evening, the coronavirus had resulted in more than 16,200 deaths in the United States out of more than 454,000 people who have tested positive for the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus a pandemic March 11.
Anyone who thinks they or a family member might be showing coronavirus symptoms can call the Carroll County Health Department’s COVID-19 hotline, which is available 8 a.m. through 5 p.m. seven days a week 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.