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COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Carroll County as delta variant concerns mount

Lifebridge Health nurse Ruby Saylor prepares doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic for adolescents aged 12-17 hosted by the Carroll County Health Department in Westminster Wednesday, May 19, 2021.
Lifebridge Health nurse Ruby Saylor prepares doses of the Pfizer Covid-19 vaccine during a vaccination clinic for adolescents aged 12-17 hosted by the Carroll County Health Department in Westminster Wednesday, May 19, 2021. (Dylan Slagle)

Carroll County is reporting a surge in COVID-19 cases over the past few weeks as concerns about the more contagious delta variant continue to mount across the country.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lists delta as a “variant of concern,” one with higher transmissibility and more likely to neutralize the protection offered by a vaccine and monoclonal antibody treatments. Delta, first discovered in India, could account for as much as 83% of all confirmed cases in the U.S., according to the latest CDC genomic surveillance data.

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Mutations in the coronavirus will continue to generate until a critical mass of the U.S. population receives a vaccine. That number could need to be as high as 80% to 85%, U.S. health officials have estimated. According to the CDC, about 57% of the U.S. population has at least one vaccine dose, and only 49% are fully vaccinated.

After several weeks of a downward trend in COVID-19 cases in the county, confirmed case numbers began to rise about two weeks ago.

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The county health department recorded 28 new confirmed COVID-19 cases the week of July 18 and 31 the week of July 11. These numbers represent a significant jump from the three cases reported the week of June 27 and 10 cases from the week of July 4.

So far this week, the county has reported 10 new cases.

Ed Singer, health officer for the county, said on Tuesday local data has been “mirroring what’s been seen both statewide and nationwide.

He said a majority of positive cases now are the delta variant.

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The countywide case rate per 100,000 people per day, reported as an average over the past seven days, is 2.54.

Carroll’s testing positivity rate, which measures the percentage of tests that returned positive results over the past seven days, is at 2.21% after being as low as 0.71% at the end of June.

As of July 13, 58.8% of county residents have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 55.5% are fully vaccinated. That data will be updated on the health department’s website Thursday.

Health department vaccination clinics are currently scheduled for Tuesdays from 5-6:30 p.m. and Fridays from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. in July; starting Aug. 3, clinics will be Tuesdays from 10 a.m.-12 p.m. and Fridays from 1-3 p.m.

The clinics are now hosted at the county health department building in Westminster. Walk-ins are welcome and all three vaccines, Johnson and Johnson, Moderna, and Pfizer, are available at all clinics, according to a county news release.

More information on the clinics can be found at https://cchd.maryland.gov/registration-links/. People who need help to register or who cannot make those clinic times can call 410-876-2152 for assistance. Pharmacy and other vaccination options can be found at https://coronavirus.maryland.gov/pages/vaccine.

Singer said he wants to “emphasize to people it certainly makes sense to get vaccinated, mentioning locally, more than 80% of cases are people who are not fully vaccinated.

“That tells me the vaccine is working efficiently,” he said.

The health department is also attending a limited number of events to bring COVID-19 vaccines to communities across the county. The “Health on Wheels” RV will be at the Carroll County FFA and 4H Fair from July 31 to Aug. 6, with vaccinations for ages 12 and up and information on other health department services.

Case, hospitalization, death and vaccination data are still updated weekly on the health department’s website.

Maryland is also experiencing an increase in cases. Health officials added 309 cases of COVID-19 to the state’s infection tally Tuesday.

While the state’s COVID-19 case and hospitalization count are nowhere near their winter peak, both metrics have been trending upward since the beginning of July. The testing positivity rate, which hit a low of 0.45% in June, has since climbed to 2.31%

According to the state website, 189 people were hospitalized due to the virus in Maryland as of Tuesday morning.

About 58% of Maryland’s population has been fully vaccinated, and nearly 77% of adults have received at least one dose of vaccine, according to Monday’s figures. Children younger than 12 remain ineligible for the vaccines, though they are expected to qualify for vaccinations by the end of the year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention backpedaled Tuesday on its masking guidelines and recommended that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in parts of the U.S. where the coronavirus is surging, a federal official said.

The new guidance follows recent decisions in Los Angeles and St. Louis to revert to indoor mask mandates amid a spike in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations that have been especially bad in the South. The country is averaging more than 57,000 cases a day and 24,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations.

Regarding the new CDC guidelines, Singer said he had to “take a look” at exactly what they say.

“We always recommend people follow CDC guidelines,” he said. “I doubt we’ll see mandatory requirements for masks … We’ll get the information out there of what science is showing.”

Carroll County Schools will also evaluate the new guidance on masks in consultation with the county health department.

“Right now, masks are optional in schools for staff and students,” said Cindy McCabe, Carroll County Public Schools chief of schools. “Our BOE would have to vote to change our current practice from masks being optional to masks being mandatory. I’m sure we will continue to get updates at board meetings from Ed Singer, and we’ll continue to discuss best practices in schools.”

Carroll County Times reporter Kristen Griffith contributed to this article.

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