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Howard County Times
Howard County

Howard County COVID cases are again on the rise as RSV cases wane

In Howard County, 90.1% of residents are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, the second-highest rate in Maryland, just behind Montgomery County, with a 92.9% rate, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health.

Despite the vaccination numbers, the Howard County Health Department is starting to see cases of COVID slowly creeping up.

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“They’re starting to increase,” said Dr. Kelly Russo, medical director with the health department. “I wouldn’t say they are ‘surging.’”

Russo said the health department gets COVID case data from the Maryland Department of Health, but she stresses that the numbers don’t tell the entire picture, since so many people are using kits to test at home.

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In Howard, as of Wednesday, there were 61,187 cases of COVID, and 419 deaths, according to data from the Maryland State Health Department’s Dashboard.

“The data on the Maryland website is only for PCR tests,” Russo said. “That drastically underestimates the positivity rate.”

PCR, or polymerase chain reaction, tests provide more accurate COVID results than rapid tests.

Russo said from the time vaccinations against COVID were available, the health department worked diligently to get the word out to residents, leading to the high vaccination rate.

“We are in competition with Montgomery County,” Russo said. “Either we’re first and they’re second, or they’re first and we’re second. But we’re typically at the top.

“We have taken the approach since the very beginning getting information into the community.”

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The department has used social media, partnering with other health facilities, such as urgent care centers, and community organizations to get the word out.

“It’s really been a group effort,” Russo said. “It really takes a village in Howard County. We’ve been very aggressive with the number of clinics around the county ... We have a van that goes around to homebound residents who have made an appointment to get vaccinated. We have also encouraged vaccinations in nursing homes.”

People are considered fully vaccinated 14 days after receiving the last required dose of an FDA-authorized COVID-19 vaccine. For information on vaccinations in Howard County, go to https://www.howardcountymd.gov/health/covid-19-vaccine#health-department-vaccination-clinics.

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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention uses COVID case data and impacts on the healthcare system to classify communities throughout the nation as low, medium and high, according to its website. COVID levels help individuals and communities decide which prevention actions to take based on the latest information.

Howard County’s community level was medium, as of Dec. 15.

“We should all be washing our hands, and using our arm for coughing and sneezing,” Russo said. “If you’re concerned, wear a mask. We are at a medium COVID level, so I would suggest wearing a mask, especially if you’re going to see loved ones (for Christmas).

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“We’ve seen an increase in more COVID, and that is why we’re in the medium,” she said. “There’s more cases in the community.”

But that was not always the case.

In a Nov. 2 news release to county residents, Dr. Maura J. Rossman, the Howard County health officer, said the COVID community level was low.

“While COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths remain lower than earlier in the year, we do expect an increase in the coming months,” she said in November.

At the time, Rossman said, the county was dealing with an increase in other viruses, especially in young children. This included the flu and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) that were causing many young children to develop severe respiratory diseases requiring emergency room treatment and hospitalization.

Russo said fortunately the county has seen a decrease in flu cases and RSV.

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“It peaked at the end of October, but we’re seeing less cases now,” she said this week.


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