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Carroll County Times Opinion

Dr. Robert Wack: Vaccinations can stem new surge in COVID cases | COMMENTARY

The recent surge of COVID cases statewide, combined with the arrival in our area of the new highly contagious omicron variant, have cast a shadow over the holidays. Our hospital system is already over capacity, and the prospect of pandemic catastrophe looms once again.

Garrett Hoover, president of Carroll Hospital, said recently, “We doubled our COVID patients in the last week, we are out of room in the hospital, we don’t have enough staff, and people are waiting too long in the Emergency Department for a bed. Every COVID patient on a ventilator in the critical care units is unvaccinated. This is a crisis.”

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Unlike last year, we have the tools to reverse this situation, if only we can summon the resolve to do our duty for the good of the community. We know how the virus spreads and we have more tools to slow it down.

The hard truth is that our community, or rather, a portion of our community, chose the path we’re on. Hospitalization data show that the vast majority of seriously ill COVID patients are unvaccinated, and some may die in coming weeks. More will follow depending on the choices we all make.

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Though vaccinated people do have breakthrough infections, they are usually short, mild, and rarely result in serious illness requiring hospitalization. More serious breakthrough infections occur mainly in older adults with multiple health conditions.

The consequences of the choice not to vaccinate are not just confined to the unvaccinated. Vaccine refusers spread the virus faster and wider in the community, even to those who are vaccinated but still vulnerable due to other medical issues. The unvaccinated also place a disproportionate burden on the health care system, as we see today.

The long waits in the Emergency Department, and the resources tied up dealing with unvaccinated patients, don’t just affect people with COVID. They also may cause a shortage of the IV tubing necessary to administer lifesaving medication to someone having a stroke or heart attack. They may impact how quickly a pregnant woman can have an emergency cesarean section, or the availability of an ambulance for a seriously ill child or someone bleeding to death on Route 31 after a car crash. Hospital crowding caused by unvaccinated COVID patients, combined with staffing and resource shortages, may delay or prevent access to lifesaving medical treatment for everyone in our community. More than ever, we need to take action to protect each other.

Equally important, we need to celebrate the holidays prudently, to share the joy of the season without putting ourselves and others at risk. Fortunately, 2021 isn’t 2020. We now know much more about how the virus spreads than we did last year. Air circulation matters. Open windows if you are in a crowd indoors. Outdoor gatherings are significantly lower risk, so if you can put on a sweater and bundle up, head outside. Either way, keep the fresh air flowing.

Masks work. We have plenty of proof now that wearing masks when indoors in close quarters dramatically decreases COVID transmission. Wear a mask when distancing is not possible.

Test early and often. Go to your local pharmacy or urgent care center for testing, or get at-home test kits. The county health department is working with the libraries to distribute kits from the Maryland Department of Health. Use them before holiday gatherings, especially if you are visiting someone at high risk. If you have symptoms, postpone your event or join virtually.

Get vaccinated, and if you are vaccinated, get a booster. The Carroll County Health Department and community partners such as the library system, local pharmacies, and doctors offices, have vaccine available at clinics and by appointment. Most important, do everything you can to convince family members, friends and co-workers to get vaccinated if they aren’t. That’s the best gift they can give themselves and everyone else in the community. Someone’s life may depend on it.

Dr. Robert Wack is the deputy health officer for the Carroll County Health Department. He can be reached at Robert.wack@maryland.gov.


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