As 90% of Maryland’s hospitals are reaching capacity and the number of COVID-19 cases rise, Montgomery County officials are urging residents to return to mitigation methods to stop the spread.
“COVID is very, very real. It is still very much out there,” Dr. Patsy McNeil, chief medical officer at Adventist Health, said during a county press briefing Thursday.
Montgomery County is currently at a medium community level for COVID-19 transmission, said Sean O’Donnell, the county’s emergency preparedness manager. O’Donnell said 40% of COVID-19 tests taken at county testing sites this week were positive.
While officials have warned of a rising “tripledemic” in recent months, O’Donnell said flu and RSV cases are declining. However, COVID-19 cases continue to rise.
While the county is not mandating masking, officials are encouraging community members to take precautions by masking in large group settings or if they have been sick. They are also urging residents to get vaccinated and keep up with their booster shots.
The majority of patients being hospitalized with COVID-19, particularly those on a ventilator or other breathing assistance, are unvaccinated, McNeil said.
“I know that there is vaccine fatigue amongst those out in the community. I myself do not like or enjoy getting shots, but it is very important to keep up with those boosters to keep yourself healthy,” McNeil said. “And it’s not only about oneself being healthy. We all are in contact with people who are elderly, or cancer patients, or otherwise immune compromised. For the community benefit it is a citizen obligation, I believe, at the highest level to make sure that your vaccinations are up to date.”
According to county data, the majority of residents eligible for the COVID-19 bivalent booster have not received it. County data indicates that seniors over 65 have the highest rate of received boosters at 54%, and that number goes down with generations. Only 24% of eligible residents age 18-49 have received their booster.
While less than 10% of hospital beds are occupied by COVID-19 patients, McNeil said that number would be higher if not for a state-funded alternative COVID-19 care site in Takoma Park, where more stable COVID-19 patients are transferred to allow the hospitals to focus on acute care. McNeil said between staffing shortages and pandemic fatigue, it is important to focus on decreasing the strain on healthcare workers.
“Doctors and nurses are experiencing burnout,” she said.
McNeil said it is important to still take precautions even if you have already had COVID-19 before. While the body does develop antibodies after contracting the virus, the virus is evolving so that the immune system does not recognize it. McNeil said most people only have about 90 days of relative immunity after having the virus.
“In the evolution of the virus, there will come a time when your body has not seen this particular variant of the virus. If you have had COVID two years ago, you absolutely can get COVID now, and that is why the vaccines are changing as well because they have to keep up with that evolution,” McNeil said. “It is unfortunately not a silver bullet to have once. You most definitely can have it many, many, many times.”