Montgomery County officials said Monday that COVID-19-related hospitalizations remain higher than prior months, but that the county remains in a good position to handle any potential surge.  

Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, said as of Monday, there were 141 COVID-related hospitalizations countywide: 106 in acute care beds and 35 in intensive care unit beds.  

According to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, 75.2% of inpatient beds in hospitals countywide were being used, labeled as “low utilization.” Of ICU beds countywide, 78% of beds were being used for all types of diseases, also in the “low utilization” category. 

Overall, 9.1% of hospital beds countywide are being used by COVID-19 patients, labeled as “moderate utilization.” 

O’Donnell told reporters Monday that rising hospitalizations can be concerning because it represents a “finite resource” in the county, but added the situation is not dire, unlike in some other areas nationwide. 

“Right now, we have bed capacity. We’re not concerned with where we are today,” O’Donnell said. “We of course are looking down the line [at] if these rates continue, what’s the impact there?” 

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County health officials have worked with local hospitals to develop plans for increased capacity in case of a surge, O’Donnell said. That includes at Adventist HealthCare Takoma Park, an alternate care site that treats COVID-19 patients. 

O’Donnell added that state health officials have also directed hospitals throughout Maryland to provide updated emergency plans to the Maryland Department of Health by Dec. 15, describing how they plan to increase bed capacity in case of a surge. 

“And of course, tactics that have been used in the past [are] to reduce or remove non-essential procedures happening at hospitals,” O’Donnell said. “So we’re not yet at that point. But that is something that certainly would be considered if the COVID rates continued to the point that threatened hospital capacity.” 

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Spokespeople for the Maryland Department of Health could not immediately be reached for comment via a phone call or email Monday. 

How is the county tracking cases with the state website down? 

Since earlier this month, the Maryland Department of Health has been unable to provide updated daily case counts, due to a website hack, according to multiple news reports. 

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O’Donnell told reporters Monday that county officials are still able to estimate some portion of their daily case counts through county-run testing, which accounts for anywhere from 15% to 25% of testing countywide in a given week. 

That testing happens at schools and community-run sites countywide, O’Donnell said. The piece that is missing is the tests that are done in the private sector, which is reported to the Maryland Department of Health.  

Internal data is helping county health officials get some sense of the positivity rate and community spread, but O’Donnell admitted it’s not the full picture.  

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“What we’re missing is that data from the private providers, which gets captured by the state systems and then we can pull it from them,” O’Donnell said.    

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com