County chooses 10 benchmarks to determine rollback of reopening

County chooses 10 indicators as guide for potentially tightening COVID-19 restrictions

Benchmarks include daily cases, test positivity, transmission rate Benchmarks include daily cases, test positivity, transmission rate

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This story was updated at 8:29 p.m. on Oct. 23, 2020, to include the county’s previous benchmarks on its data dashboard.

Montgomery County is using 10 indicators to determine whether to tighten restrictions if COVID-19 cases continue to rise, potentially rolling back some of its progress toward reopening.

Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer, said in a press release late Friday afternoon that the indicators for monitoring progress have been updated while officials continue to investigate the cause of the recent rise in cases.

The last time the benchmarks were updated was June.

“We have been monitoring the uptick in cases to determine whether it was an anomaly, but the increase in cases has been consistent over the last few weeks,” he said in the press release. “These updated indicators will enable the public to see the data we are evaluating as [we] make difficult decisions. Our goal is to reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 and these indicators will help [us] monitor the risk of transmission in the county.”

The indicators will be used to determine whether more restrictions will be placed on social gathering sizes, indoor capacity and high-risk activities as identified by contact tracing.

The primary benchmarks are:
● Daily case rate (seven-day average per 100,000 people)
● Test positivity rate or percentage (during the last 14 days)
● Rate of transmission

The secondary benchmarks include:
● Percentage of change in new cases per 100,000 people (during the last seven days compared with the previous seven days)
● Percentage of hospital inpatient beds that are occupied
● Percentage of intensive care unit beds occupied
● Percentage of hospital beds occupied by COVID-19 patients
● Positive cases with contact tracing attempts
● Positive cases that have been interviewed
● Close contacts to positive cases where contact has been attempted

The county did not provide any specifics on the benchmark levels that could trigger a rollback.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the county’s health department, did not immediately respond to a request for comment Friday evening.

As of Friday evening, the county’s updated “data dashboard” online showed information for six of the 10 indicators listed in the press release. There was no explanation of why six indicators were included on the website and the other four were not.

The updated dashboard showed that the indicators with the highest levels were: new confirmed cases, which had a moderate risk of transmission, and COVID-19-related hospital bed utilization, which is at a moderate rate.

The other four standards were at a low risks and rates:
• Hospital bed utilization: low rate of utilization
• Percentage of intensive care unit beds in the community that are occupied: low rate of utilization
• Percent change in cases: low risk of transmission
• Test positivity rate: very low risk of transmission

The county’s data dashboard previously listed 10 benchmarks to display the progress on particular conditions of the pandemic. Those were:
• Number of new confirmed cases
• Number of new COVID-19 related deaths
• COVID-19 related hospitalizations
• COVID-19 related intensive-care unit hospitalizations
• Acute care bed utilization rate
• ICU bed utilization rate
• Percentage of ventilators in use
• Test positivity
• Number of COVID-19 related emergency room patients
• Number of tests administered

County Executive Marc Elrich said in the release that he didn’t want to see any restrictions be put back in place.

“We must remain vigilant and keep wearing masks, making sure that we physically distance, avoid activities where contact risk is high and get tested,” he said. “If we all do our part, I believe we can keep the risk of greater transmission low.”

Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at briana.adhikusuma@bethesdamagazine.com.

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