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Blubaugh: Our behavior will determine future of Carroll County’s students, elderly | COMMENTARY

With Maryland having moved into the final stage of its coronavirus pandemic recovery plan, many are enjoying Labor Day weekend with backyard barbecues. Or a trip to Ocean City.

Movie theaters have reopened, all youth sports competition has been restored and Carroll County Public Schools has targeted a return to in-person learning on Oct. 19.

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Of course, the ability for CCPS to do that has everything to do with what happens over the next month.

Health Officer Ed Singer noted the impending arrival of Labor Day weekend, Thursday, during the weekly Board of Commissioners meeting. And how people’s behavior has been driving community cases, many of which are related to large gatherings with family and friends.

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Before Labor Day even arrived, community cases in Carroll were on the rise. After weeks of 37 and 36 community cases had put the county ever so close to the magic 35 weekly number Singer has said would make him comfortable in recommending a return to in-person learning, the health department had already announced 68 cases from last Sunday through mid-afternoon Friday.

Anomaly? Beginning of a trend?

It’s a good sign that McDaniel College students and staff have been back on campus for three weeks and, through Friday, had seen only seven COVID-19 cases. It’s a bad sign that so many other schools, near and far, have seen outbreaks.

Gettysburg College spent last week in quarantine and James Madison University sent students home, following the likes of Towson University, the University of North Carolina and others.

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Just over the Mason-Dixon Line from Carroll, the South Western School District closed for a week only one week after opening.

Yes, it is a shame CCPS students have to begin the school year virtually on Tuesday. It would be worse, however, to start school in person only to have buildings closed soon after.

“We don’t want to be opening and closing, opening and closing. I don’t know that that is helpful for anyone,” Superintendent Steve Lockard said last week.

Of course, none of the above, not the numbers, not the closings, not the quotes will matter to those who believe this whole thing is somewhere between a massive overreaction and a complete hoax. (Unscientifically, those people make up about 75% of the population that posts online comments on our stories.)

“This pandemic is not political,” Commissioner Stephen Wantz said during Thursday’s meeting.

Maybe not to you, commissioner, but to your constituents? Far too many seem to think this is all about winning some sort of debate, forgetting the human toll.

Could students go back to school in person this week and see very few serious cases of COVID-19 and no deaths whatsoever over the next few months?

Possibly. But the students aren’t in a bubble. As Singer said, they’re definitely contracting the virus; they’re definitely spreading the virus. And while the coronavirus isn’t killing those under 18 or even those under 50, the elderly are a different story.

“Most of us that are younger and don’t have serious health conditions can get through this disease and weather it. But we want to make sure we’re protecting our grandparents and parents,” Singer said. “As a society we have a responsibility to protect each other.”

Indeed. And why is it important to protect those who are most vulnerable?

According to a chart Singer showed the commissioners, through Aug 20, 134 members of our 65-and-over community had been hospitalized for COVID-19. And 124 members of our 65-and-over community had died from COVID-19.

“If you look at the 65-plus [age group], this is just scary,” Singer said. “If you’re 65 and over and you wind up in the hospital, there’s not a real good chance you’re going to recover from this disease. You’re going to wind up, uh, well, the bottom line is you’re going to wind up dead.”

Let that sink in.

Including that sobering statement was not meant to scare anyone into never leaving home. It was not meant to advance any political agenda. It sure was not meant to sell papers.

The hope here is that last week’s uptick in community cases was an anomaly, that Carroll County kids will be able to return to school buildings in October and that no other 65-and-overs show up on health department charts.

Hope won’t make it happen, however. Singer urged the continued following of social distancing and mask wearing rules.

Wantz admonished citizens who’ve been lulled into a false sense of security.

“I don’t know what part about not being complacent that people don’t understand,” he said Thursday. “We’re moving in the right direction. Who wants to go the other way? Show of hands? That’s what I thought.”

Bob Blubaugh is the editor of the Carroll County Times. His column appears Sundays. Email him at bob.blubaugh@carrollcountytimes.com.

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