2022 | Coronavirus

As COVID-19 cases continue to climb, county hospitalizations still at manageable levels, officials say

Numbers slowly increasing, but overall capacity remains

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Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Coronavirus cases have continued to increase in Montgomery County in recent weeks and hospitalizations have also started to climb — but there is overall capacity in the local health care system, according to county data.

As of Thursday, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard showed there were about 396 cases per 100,000 residents, over a seven-day period. That number has been climbing since March 15, when there were about 32 cases per 100,000 residents, over a seven-day period.

The number of COVID-related hospitalizations has also started to increase. As of April 1, 1.8% of staffed inpatient beds in county hospitals were occupied by COVID-19 patients, over a seven-day average. By Thursday, that metric stood at 7.5%.

On April 1, there were 1.2 new COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents per a seven-day period. As of Thursday, that same metric was 8 COVID-19 hospital admissions. 

But the county’s dashboard shows local hospitals haven’t reached capacity. On Jan. 20, during the original surge of the omicron variant of the coronavirus, 78.2% of inpatient beds in hospitals countywide were occupied. By Thursday, that data point had dropped to 67.9%.

In a similar trend, 90.5% of the county’s intensive care unit beds were in use on Jan. 22. By Thursday, 67.1% of ICU beds were in use.

James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, said this week that the county’s high vaccination rates have helped hospitalizations remain lower than during prior waves of the pandemic, including the peak of the omicron wave during the winter months. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 87.8% of residents are fully vaccinated.

It’s also important to consider, amid rising cases, that the county is seeing many subvariants of the original omicron variant, Bridgers added.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard told reporters that if one of the subvariants of omicron had been the first version of the coronavirus, it would have been “catastrophic” on hospitals and health care systems, given its transmissibility and the fact there were no treatments or vaccines.

Stoddard added that natural immunity, various treatments for the coronavirus, and vaccines have all led to lower hospitalization and death rates than earlier in the pandemic. 

“We are not immunologically as naive as we were in previous [waves],” Stoddard said. “Each subsequent variant will build upon the immunity of the population from previous waves.”

Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, said that it’s difficult to know how non-COVID cases are impacting hospital admissions. But he added that the “volatility” of hospital numbers in recent weeks indicates that patients with the virus are staying in the hospital for shorter amounts of time when compared to previous waves.

“This wave may also be less severe, not causing some of the same respiratory situations that we saw with the very first few waves that really had huge impacts on folks,” O’Donnell said.

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