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The Aegis
Harford County

COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Harford County; unvaccinated patients occupy most hospital beds

As Maryland enters another period of rapidly increasing COVID-19 cases, Harford County is being forced to navigate a dire situation without a health officer. The county is ninth in cases per 1,000 residents in the last 14 days (3.69), and 18th in the state for total number of COVID cases per 1,000 residents (86.39).

Dr. David Bishai, the former county health officer, was removed from his position in October. While no formal reason was given for Bishai’s removal, he believes it was politically motivated. In November, the public health expert and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health adjunct professor penned an op-ed in The Aegis in which he asked the Harford County Council to explain why he was dismissed.

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Marcy Austin, who served as deputy health officer before Bishai’s dismissal, is leading the agency until the role is filled.

Though the topic is brought up nearly every meeting, the County Council has not provided any updates to the search for a permanent health officer.

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Ronya Nassar, spokesperson for the Harford County Health Department, said the department is operating “the same way” despite having no officer at the helm.

“We are still providing vaccines/boosters, holding clinics for 5-to-11-year-olds to get vaccinated, providing free rapid tests [when available] to residents, continuing contact tracing, promoting vaccinations, masking, testing, distancing, and all other COVID mitigation strategies, reviewing current data and science and much more all while operating and providing our normal services to the community,” Nassar said.

COVID-19 tests are becoming more and more difficult to locate in Harford County, as they are in other areas in the state. In November, the county health department began distributing at-home COVID-19 rapid test kits on select days at county libraries. But demand has increased amid the spike.

At the health department’s Woodbridge location Wednesday morning, every test was distributed within 30 minutes.

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More test kits will be distributed at fire stations throughout the county beginning in January, Nassar said, though test availability depends largely on the state health department.

“Once we get a shipment from them, we try and get them in the hands of the residents as soon as possible,” Nassar said. “Unfortunately, we do not know details yet about what the governor mentioned yesterday during his press conference.”

During a news conference Dec. 21, Gov. Larry Hogan, who is quarantining after testing positive for the virus, said emergency measures are being taken to address the surge in cases statewide. He also warned the state is on track to record 2,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations by next month, which could lead to a higher proportion than in January 2021.

Local schools are also being affected profoundly.

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According to Maryland State Health Department data published Wednesday, 23 schools in Harford County are reporting COVID-19 outbreaks ranging from two to 116 students. Youth’s Benefit Elementary School is reporting the second-highest number of positive COVID-19 cases of any school in Maryland. Though it has dropped from the top spot it held last week, the Fallston-based elementary school is currently reporting 116 cases, an increase of eight cases since last week.

As of Wednesday, 68 people were hospitalized with COVID-19, with 26 of those in critical care, according to County Executive Barry Glassman. Most of those hospitalized with COVID-19 in Harford County have something in common: vaccine status.

“Approximately three-quarters of University of Maryland Upper Chesapeake’s COVID-19 positive patients are unvaccinated,” said Michael Schwartzberg, media relations director for affiliate hospitals and corporate at the University of Maryland Medical System.


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