Howard County Times
Howard County

Howard County’s decline in COVID cases continues as key metrics dip below national bench marks

Howard County’s coronavirus numbers are the best they’ve been since October.

The metrics have been improving in the county, state and country for the last seven weeks, and the recent marks Howard County has dipped under are significant for multiple reasons.


Two key numbers that public health officials and local leaders use when assessing the spread of the virus — weekly positivity rate and weekly average new-case rate — have both fallen precipitously and are now lower than they’ve been since the fall.

“We’ve seen our key metrics [for] COVID-19 decline over the past several weeks, but the virus is still very much present in our community,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball wrote in a Facebook post Sunday. “We can see the end of this devastating pandemic, but we can only truly end this pandemic by working together.”


The county’s weekly positivity rate — which measures the percent at which tests return positive over a seven-day period — is 2.62%, according to the Maryland Department of Health on Wednesday. That percentage is the lowest in the county since Oct. 20, more than 130 days ago.

The 2.62% positivity rate is a nearly 68% decrease compared to the 8.09% rate — the county’s record since testing became widely available — that Howard had almost two months ago.

Howard’s current positivity rate is significantly lower than the bench mark 5% positivity rate that the World Health Organization and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined as being too high.

Meanwhile, the county’s seven-day rolling new-case rate — which measures the average number of new cases on a single day over a weeklong period — dipped below 10 per 100,000 residents for the first time since Nov. 4. From Feb. 23 to March 2, the county saw a daily average of 9.69 new cases per 100,000. Just seven weeks ago, the county’s case rate was 406% higher than it is now at a record 49.08 per 100,000.

The county’s case rate is under the 15 per 100,000 number the CDC and WHO have cited for when transmission is low enough to where restrictions could be lifted.

Howard’s numbers are slightly better than the rest of the state, which has been a consistent theme during the pandemic. The state’s positivity rate is 3.28%, while the case rate is 12.92 per 100,000.

The increase in numbers in Howard County and across Maryland began in early November and spiked twice due to both Thanksgiving and the winter holiday season. For much of the summer and early fall in 2020, the county’s weekly positivity rate hovered between 2% and 4% and the weekly case rate remained under 12.6 per 100,000 and was almost always under 10.

In total, the county has recorded nearly 16,000 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, and 223 residents have died from COVID-19.


The lower rate of transmission is important for all county residents, but it’s especially important for the public school system. On Monday, Howard County welcomed about 4,000 students back into classrooms for its five-day-a-week program to begin the rollout of the district’s hybrid model. All students who want to be in classrooms — about 52% of the system’s 57,000 enrollment — will be back in buildings by April 12.

Back in late January when the school board approved the hybrid model, some in the community were concerned because the county’s metrics were still high. On Jan. 26, when the board voted on the plan, the county’s case rate was 26.01 per 100,000 and the positivity rate was 5.79%.

Now, though, the county’s metrics are good enough to have students back in classrooms, according to the CDC’s guidelines on reopening.

Public health officials have cited multiple reasons as to why the numbers across the country have declined, including winter weather decreasing activity and travel, the vaccine rollout that has inoculated more than 15% of U.S. adults with at least one shot and the expected decline of a holiday-induced ballooning of numbers.

As of Wednesday, 31,637 Howard countians have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the state health department. Another 28,731 county residents have received their first shot of either the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and are waiting for their second shot (which is typically administered three to four weeks after the first shot).

Overall, 9.7% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated, while 18.5% of county residents have received at least one shot.