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Harford’s confirmed coronavirus cases up to 19; first patient released from hospital

Harford County Executive Barry Glassman announced Friday that 19 county residents have tested positive for COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, nearly quadrupling the five cases reported one week earlier.

But to temper the bad news, Glassman said in a news release, the first coronavirus patient in Harford County — an 86-year-old woman who contracted the virus overseas — has been released from the hospital.

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State and county officials, who have long warned of things getting worse before they get better, anticipated the sharp increase in cases.

“This acceleration is expected as public health officials have warned we are at the beginning of the crisis and the number of reports will surge,” Glassman said in a prepared statement

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Of Harford’s new cases, two are hospitalized and others are isolated at home. Under the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), the specifics of cases are not released to the public.

Because of the virus’ community transmission in the state, Glassman warned that county residents “must act as if everyone has the COVID-19 coronavirus,” and advised people to take steps to prevent possible infection: frequently washing hands, keeping six feet away from other people, avoiding groups and covering coughs or sneezes.

Most recover from the viral infection without incident, but people with compromised immune systems and the elderly are at greater risk for serious infections, he said.

“Our goal as a community is to slow the spread and keep vulnerable people safe. This will also help our healthcare system handle the serious cases without being overwhelmed,” Glassman said in the statement.

Glassman also said that the state has expanded guideline on who can be tested for the virus. Testing must still be ordered by physicians, but the increased access to tests is another reason officials expected the number of cases to shoot up.

“This week the state broadened guidelines for who can be tested beyond those with previously identified risk factors. This is another reason we can expect spikes in the number of tests and reported cases. Remember that if you feel sick, testing still must be ordered by your physician,” Glassman said.

In a tweet, the Harford County Health Department outlined who should be tested, stating that mildly ill people should not get tested. The tests are reserved for people who are showing symptoms and high-risk patients, hospitalized or healthcare personnel.

County agencies remain open, but public access to government buildings is “severely limited,” Director of Governmental and Community Relations Cindy Mumby said.

In-person visits are discouraged, and citizens should use the county’s suite of online tools and a drop-box to submit applications and information to county government.

The Harford County Sheriff’s Office announced Wednesday it would temporarily restrict access to its lobbies in view of the public health risk the virus poses.

Still, county government is open, Mumby said. County parks remain open, too, though Glassman cautioned people to practice social distancing outdoors.

The Maryland Department of Health has recorded 774 confirmed cases of COVID-19 statewide as of Friday, which corresponds to 173 hospitalizations and five deaths. Twenty-five people have been released from isolation across the state, the department reported.

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Harford has the seventh-most cases of Maryland’s 24 counties and municipalities tracked by the Department of Health.

Medical and health questions can be directed to the Harford County Health Department, which is reachable at 410-838-1500.

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