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Free COVID test kits claimed within minutes, while Carroll Hospital continues to be overwhelmed by COVID patients

Drive-in COVID-19 testing underway at the Carroll County Health Department in Westminster Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021.
Drive-in COVID-19 testing underway at the Carroll County Health Department in Westminster Tuesday, Dec. 21, 2021. (Dylan Slagle / Carroll County Times)

Interest in free COVID-19 at-home test kits at Carroll County Public Library branches this week was so intense that the library system’s website briefly crashed Tuesday morning when registration opened. All available free test kits were claimed within minutes.

And at Carroll Hospital over the weekend, all 200 beds were filled for the first time in the hospital’s history, according to Dr. Mark Olszyk, chief medical officer.

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The number of patients with COVID-19 continues to overwhelm the hospital, Olszyk said.

“One out of three patients are COVID patients,” he said. “For one disease to make up that percentage is unheard of.”

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As of Dec. 21, 165 beds were taken. According to Garrett Hoover, president of Carroll Hospital, the normal census is 120 patients.

Of the 12 beds available in the hospital’s Critical Care Unit, 11 were occupied on Dec. 21. The unit has been at or near full capacity since early fall, Hoover said.

Hoover wrote in an editorial last week that the hospital is operating “at a critical level.

“Our team members are doing everything possible to care for our community, but we need [community] cooperation,” he wrote. “The physical and emotional strain that our team members are experiencing is unprecedented and heartbreaking.”

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As of Dec. 21, the hospital was caring for 54 COVID-positive patients, 44 of whom were unvaccinated and were an average age of 55. The other 10 COVID-positive patients were vaccinated and were an average age of 75.

Eleven additional patients were in isolation at the hospital for suspected COVID-19 infection.

As COVID cases rise in the community, demand for tests is also rising.

Lisa Picker, director of communications for Carroll County libraries, said there has been “tremendous response from the community” to weekly at-home test kit distributions.

Limited quantities of free test kits are being distributed through the health department at library branches each Wednesday. This week, 75 tests kits containing two tests each were available at each of the six library branches and at library system headquarters in New Windsor.

All were all reserved within minutes.

More test kits will be made available at the branches next week, Picker said.

Library customers may register weekly, starting at 9 a.m. each Tuesday at https://library.carr.org/testkit to pick up one kit per person. COVID testing is also available at some urgent care centers and pharmacies in the county, but supply is not consistent with demand.

The health department offers COVID-19 testing only for people who are exposed or symptomatic from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., on Tuesdays and Fridays, and from 12:30 p.m. to 4:30 p.m., on Wednesdays.

“It’s a supply and demand issue,” Olszyk said. “Tests are still available in doctor’s offices … but it’s important people are able to test at home.”

Many health officials have credited the recent increase in COVID cases to holiday gatherings and more time spent indoors due to cold weather. The omicron variant, which has proved be more infectious than other variants, is also contributing to the increase.

“It’s the perfect storm,” Olszyk said, adding that experts expect case numbers to continue to rise. “The best thing to do is to get vaccinated and boosted if you haven’t already.”

Olszyk recommends gathering in very small groups and wearing a mask indoors as much as possible during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

First or second shots of the COVID-19 vaccines are available at Carroll County Health Department clinics 10 a.m. to noon Tuesdays and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m., Fridays. There will be no clinic on Dec. 24 or Dec. 31.

Register at cchd.maryland.gov/registration-links or walk into the health department, at 290 S. Center St., in Westminster. Those coming for second doses should bring their vaccine cards.

For more information about at-home test kits, visit https://cchd.maryland.gov/at-home-test-kits/.

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