COVID-19 cases surge in St. Mary's County
St. Mary’s County Health Officer Dr. Meena Brewster updated the county commissioners on the coronavirus pandemic on Tuesday and noted that the county is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Per the county health department’s website, St. Mary’s reached a new high for the number of cases per 100,000 on Sept. 25 at 79.63. The previous high of 59.01 was reached on Jan. 13. That number was first surpassed on Sept. 20 at 60.87.
As of Sept. 28, the case rate stood at 68.57.
In addition, Brewster said that last week saw the highest number of COVID-19 cases per week (641) in the county since the pandemic began last year.
She said that a return to school and Labor Day vacations played a part in the surge, but noted that the current numbers didn’t yet reflect activity from last week’s county fair, which was packed in part due to good weather.
Although Commissioner John O’Connor (R) mentioned that some employers, particularly the federal government and federal contractors, are requiring those who aren’t vaccinated to get tested weekly, Brewster said the county health department doesn’t have the capacity to test employees from large employers.
The county is seeing “hundreds and hundreds” of people getting tested at its two sites every day, she said. She and O’Connor noted that urgent care centers typically have a 4-to-5-hour wait for testing.
COVID-19 testing is available from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Monday through Friday in St. Mary’s County at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire Department and at the county’s Behavioral Health Hub at 21625 Great Mills Road in Lexington Park. No appointments are needed, but people can preregister at the health department’s website at www.smchd.org/covid-19-testing to reduce wait times.
Vaccinations are available primarily at the Hollywood site, but are also available at the Lexington Park site, which is located at the old PNC bank. Visit smchd.org/covid-19-vaccine or call the health department at 301-475-4330 to make an appointment.
Rapid PCR testing is available at the county health department’s Leonardtown office by appointment only for high risk and critical workers, she said.
Brewster implored businesses to “please consider mandatory masking indoors.”
Commissioner Mike Hewitt (R) noted that President Joe Biden “hasn’t gone to [mandatory] masking,” and he didn’t want the county to be more restrictive than the state or federal government in that regard.
“Several local jurisdictions have mandated mask wearing,” Brewster replied. “I think it’s effective.”
“There’s two sides to this,” O’Connor said. “Who’s going to enforce it? It’s only as good as those who are there to enforce it. That road [to mandatory masking] is going to be a mess.”
He compared wearing a mask to putting on a seat belt while in a vehicle or using prophylactics during sex, noting that it’s up to the individual to make the choice. However, wearing a seat belt is the law in Maryland.
O’Connor added that he doesn’t like the back-and-forth bullying that’s going on in regard to wearing or not wearing a mask.
Commissioner President Randy Guy (R) noted that some who don’t want to get a vaccine “blame it on religion” or not knowing the long-term effects of the vaccine. “I think they’re foolish not to get it done,” he said.
O’Connor said he’s not in favor of mandatory vaccines and noted the example of the city of Bowie, which required all of its employees to get vaccinated. Bowie initially allowed testing in lieu of vaccination, he said, but recently had a hard deadline to get the shot.
“I’m not a fan” of Bowie’s policy, O’Connor said, noting that it resulted in the loss of workforce.
In a phone call after Tuesday’s meeting, O’Connor — who said he recently began working for the District Heights City Police and has been a law enforcement officer for 20 years — said the issue has also affected law enforcement, citing a recent story from Law Enforcement Today about Massachusetts state troopers quitting because of a mandatory vaccine requirement.
“It’s perfectly reasonable and good for people to be critical in their thinking,” Brewster said at Tuesday’s meeting. “But we’re at the point now ... that these vaccines have excellent safety profiles.”
She also recommended that people consider upgrading their masks to one that is multi-layered, KN95 or K95 or a medical-grade ASTM-rated 3- or 4-ply surgical mask.