TWO YEARS IN: COVID IN CECIL

December 18th, 2021

North East, 12/18/2021

by Doug Donley, Alison Donley

At the end of a second year of the pandemic, we’re faced with a new variant, Omicron, and spiking positivity rates here in Cecil County. According to the last available data, we’re at about 13% positivity and continuing to rise, compared to a statewide average of about 5%. Additionally, Cecil County has some of the lowest vaccination rates in the state with about 48% of folks fully vaccinated. These numbers represent the status of COVID-19 in Cecil before the MDH reporting system went down as reported on December 5 though vaccination rates are still available on the MDH web site.

Latest:

Christiana Care, operator of Union Hospital in Elkton, reports that it’s capacity is “trending extremely high” and has announced a postponement of elective surgeries across its system. Statewide, as the number of people hospitalized for COVID-19 has surpassed 1,200, the Maryland Department of Health (MDH) has ordered hospitals to reduce all  non-urgent medical surgeries that require an overnight stay and make available all staffed bed capacity.

Governor Larry Hogan has announced that State health officials have issued a new directive requiring nursing homes to offer approved or authorized COVID-19 therapeutic treatments—including monoclonal antibody treatments—to residents upon identification of an outbreak.

In our three nursing homes where some of the most vulnerable live, rates of vaccination among residents and staff remain pretty low. Per state protocols, all staff were required to show proof of first dose or single dose of COVID-19 vaccination on September 1st of this year. Staff who choose not to get the vaccine are required to undergo weekly testing. Overall Cecil County ranks lowest in the state in terms of nursing home staff vaccination rates, lagging behind the next lowest ranking county by more than 6 percentage points,. At Calvert Nursing Home, only 62% of staff are fully vaccinated. 

Beyond the numbers lies the exhaustion many people feel from lockdowns, school and work interruptions, the politicization of vaccine and mask requirements, and a basic fear of becoming infected. In Cecil, we’ve seen voices raised in anger at school board meetings and political threats aimed at County Council members who suggest following the science. Out in public, though there’s an observed increase in mask wearing, most people appear to have resumed pre-pandemic behaviors of going to stores, restaurants, meetings and events without masks or attention to social distancing. 

With only about half of Cecil’s population fully vaccinated, we enter the winter months in which confinement to indoor activities increases, giving the now prevalent Delta variant  and the highly contagious Omicron upstart a better opportunity to spread. To avoid infection or to minimize the severity of illness the CDC recommends boosters for everyone over 18. It is likely that the definition of “fully vaccinated” will soon include receiving a booster shot.  Only 25% of Americans have received a booster according to the latest CDC data.

Resistance to getting vaccinated is not unique to Cecil County. But, what makes our county an outlier in a state in which most counties have considerably better rates? Misinformation and conspiracy theories via social media are frequently cited as underlying peoples’ distrust of public health information that, historically, most people accepted as scientifically based medical facts. 

While many government leaders such as Governor Hogan who “strongly urges” people to get vaccinated on his web page, Cecil County Government’s messaging has been low key. Apart from a press release on August 12 recommending vaccinations as the best way to protect yourself, Cecil’s low vaccination rate has not been addressed. In multiple emails, the county executive’s office was contacted to request an interview on this subject but we received no response.

For its part, the Cecil County Health Department utilizes social media and its website to promote vaccinations, particularly for younger people as well as publicizing vaccination clinics in the County. It has also made at-home Covid-19 testing kits available at Cecil County Public Library locations. You can schedule an appointment to pick up a free test kit at the health department in Elkton by calling 410-996-1005. 

Meanwhile, the Maryland state school board voted earlier this month to change the statewide masking policy. The current regulations require everyone in Maryland public schools to wear masks. The proposed rules incentivize vaccination uptake in schools and communities by linking mask requirements to vaccination and community spread – if approved by the General Assembly’s Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee, county school boards may lift mask requirements if they meet one of three requirements: 80% of students and staff ages 5 and older are fully vaccinated, 80% of the county is vaccinated, or community transmission levels are low or moderate. With its fairly low vaccination rates and current high community spread, Cecil County Public Schools are a long way from being able to remove those masks — even if more relaxed rules are approved.

So, it’s another case of hope for the best and preparing for the worst as the pandemic drags on. Please stay safe.

 

Covid-19 Resources:

Cecil County Health Department – (410) 996-5550, info@cecilcountyhealth.org

Maryland Department of Health – (410) 767-6500, health@maryland.gov

CDC – cdc.gov

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