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Carroll County declares state of emergency due to coronavirus: 'We’re not going to stop it at this point’

Carroll County is in a state of emergency, the Board of County Commissioners president declared Friday morning at a meeting of more than 100 people from across the county who will be on the front lines fighting the coronavirus.

The county’s first case of the coronavirus, or the COVID-19 disease it causes, was announced Friday afternoon. Chris Winebrenner, communications manager for Carroll County, said in a phone interview at about 1:45 p.m. Friday that one case has been confirmed. Winebrenner said further details will be provided during a 3 p.m. news conference at the county office building, which can be viewed on Facebook.

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The morning meeting was held before this became public knowledge.

At the meeting, county Health Officer Ed Singer said the county has moved past the containment stage and is focused on mitigation.

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“We’re not going to stop it at this point. There’s no way that it’s going to be contained within the United States,” Singer said.

The five commissioners met Thursday afternoon to declare the state of emergency starting Friday, according to Commissioner Stephen Wantz, which allows the president of the board to streamline decision making without having to convene the entire board.

Singer and Dr. Henry Taylor, deputy health officer, said the steps being taken by the state and local governments now may seem extreme and disruptive to daily life, but action is being taken so the health care system is not overwhelmed with patients.

“We’re going to try to take that peak of the curve and spread things out so that we don’t have everybody sick at the same time,” Singer said.

“A pandemic means that the containment phase will no longer work,” Taylor said.

Taylor recommended keeping a distance of 6 feet between people and noted the disease is not airborne, but spreads through droplets. It is important for surfaces to be cleaned frequently and people to cover their coughs and sneezes, he said. People should wash their hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds, which is more effective than using hand sanitizer, Taylor said, because of the abrasion that occurs when rubbing hands together. If soap and water is not available, Taylor advises using sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

A Westminster police officer asked if certain cleaning products are better than others. Singer said products with chlorine are most effective, but others should work as well. He recommended people read packaging to check how long a product should remain on a surface before it is wiped away, for maximum effectiveness.

The median age of a person with COVID-19 is 47, and the most vulnerable group is people over 60, Taylor said, citing the New England Journal of Medicine. More men than women have been infected, and few are children, which Taylor said is fortunate since most viruses affect the very young and very old people typically. Thirty-two pregnant women across the globe who tested positive for the disease have been intensively studied and their fetuses do not appear to be affected, according to Taylor. Pregnant women do not seem to be at a higher risk, he said.

Maggie Kunz, health planner and public information officer for the county health department, said there is less of a worry that young people will get sick and more of a concern that they will spread the virus to vulnerable populations.

While new information is still being gathered on an hourly basis, Taylor said so far it appears that the mortality rate stands at 3%.

“Most illnesses are mild with good recovery,” Taylor said.

People who think they should be tested for COVID-19 should first be screened by telephone, according to Taylor. Depending on the person’s answers to the questions, it may be recommended that they have a specimen collected to be tested, he said. Fever, cough and travel are some of the factors screeners are looking for, Taylor said.

The Carroll County COVID-19 hotline can be reached at 410-876-4848 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday, but those calling outside of those hours can leave a message or call the Maryland 211 line.

Representatives from Carroll Hospital said they are ready to take patients. Colleen Hordesky, director of infection, prevention and control, said the hospital’s contract for testing is through LabCorp. Specimens have to be sent to New York, she said, and it takes four or five days to get a result.

Lisa Rock, the hospital’s liaison for incident command, said they are getting questions from physicians outside of LifeBridge Health or Carroll Health Group, and they should be contacting the health department for guidance.

As of Friday afternoon, the coronavirus had resulted in 33 deaths in the United States out of more than 1,200 people who have tested positive for the virus, according to Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization deemed the coronavirus a pandemic Wednesday.

Five more people have tested positive for the new coronavirus, bringing the total number of confirmed cases to 17, a spokesman for Gov. Larry Hogan said Friday.

Singer did not directly answer whether people had been tested for COVID-19 in Carroll County.

“Globally, I think that probably that we’ve had people that have been tested in every jurisdiction probably at this point.” Singer said. “We’re not sharing those local numbers, at the direction of the Department of Health, as to specifically how many people have been tested in each jurisdiction.”

Kunz said Thursday that commercial health laboratories such as LabCorp and Quest Diagnostics have begun offering testing, though it was not clear how many people have been tested.

While Hogan on Thursday prohibited meetings of 250 people or more, Singer told the crowd at the Carroll County Public Safety Training Center that meetings of even the size of that meeting are a concern.

“There’s a low risk that anybody here in this room or anywhere in Carroll County is going to contract the COVID-19 virus, but that’s going to change,” Singer said.

Updates on the number of Maryland cases and other important information can be found on the health department’s COVID-19 webpage at cchd.maryland.gov/covid-19/.

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