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Harford ranks as one of healthiest counties in Maryland, coronavirus or otherwise, officials say

Even in view of the new coronavirus pandemic in Maryland, Harford County was ranked the state’s eighth-healthiest jurisdiction out of 24, health department officials announced earlier this week.

Harford County Health Officer Dr. Russell Moy said the county ranks well in COVID-related and prosaic health when compared to other localities in Maryland. Of jurisdictions with 500 or more COVID-19 cases, Harford County has the fewest cases and deaths per 100,000 people.

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The department of health tracked 228 cases and eight deaths per-capita in the county as of Tuesday, when Moy presented information to the Harford County Council, sitting as the Board of Health.

However, Moy said, that is no reason for complacency. He cautioned county residents against thinking of the pandemic as a binary — or as over and done.

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“We should not think about COVID recovery as a light switch you turn on and off,” he said. “This can be complicated and confusing.”

He pointed out that instructions from authorities can be conflicting. The governor’s executive order last week to reopen parks, for example, was not totally consistent with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines, which recommended complete avoidance of them. With the volume of new information and discoveries about the virus, he said, residents of Harford County should still take precautions and remember that the pandemic is not over.

“You could say that right now Harford County’s COVID numbers are good compared to other counties,” he said. “This is where judgement comes in."

As the state and county begins to open, Moy urged county residents to be careful to avoid transmission. The virus is highly infectious, he said, and the county’s numbers could change dramatically if even a single carrier inadvertently spreads the virus to a vulnerable population like a nursing home.

“Our numbers are good right now, but let us not backslide,” he said. “Do not think this pandemic is over.”

As of Thursday, Harford County tracked 663 cases, corresponding to 28 confirmed deaths and four probable deaths.

A large portion of the county’s cases come from the Bel Air and Forest Hill ZIP codes, respectively accounting for 184 and 146 cases. The virus spread to two nursing homes in those areas.

At least 34% of all cases in the county are nursing home related, as were 64% of Harford’s virus deaths , according to state data on assisted living facilities updated each Wednesday. That corresponds to 169 residents and 57 staff infected. Eighteen residents have died.

In addition to relatively low coronavirus figures, Harford county enjoyed its second year of declining overdose deaths, which had increased from 2010 to their peak of 93 in 2017, Moy reported. They declined to 71 in 2019, according to the data.

Harford also scored well against state averages for its low percentage of uninsured people, teen births and infant mortality.

The county still has a ways to go on other health issues, Moy said, beyond the coronavirus. Suicide rates are still about 2 points higher in Harford County than the state’s average. Drug overdose deaths, youth vaping and adult smoking are a few areas in which Harford is higher than the state’s average.

Youth vaping, in particular, is trending upward, and Moy said the health department is working to curb it and the illnesses concomitant with using tobacco products like heart disease, cancer and COPD. Of course, Moy said, the coronavirus has thrown the need for better emergency preparedness and outbreak management, which he said is the health department’s top priority at the moment.

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