2022 | Coronavirus

Despite rising COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations remain low in county

Officials say natural immunity and vaccination rates mean current wave hasn’t impacted health system like prior ones

share this

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

As COVID-19 cases continue to rise in Montgomery County, hospitalizations remain low and transmission is at a moderate level — a trend that is attributed to high vaccination rates, the effects of natural immunity and other factors, local health officials say.

According to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, there have been 199.77 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period. That metric has been on the rise since March 15, when it was at 32.17 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period.

Several hospitalization metrics, however, remain low, according to the dashboard and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. On March 15, these were the percentages for the following for metrics:

  • Staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (seven-day average): 2.7%. Anything under 10% is considered low, according to the dashboard.
  • New COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents (seven-day total): 1.7. Anything under 10 is also considered low. 
  • Percentage of hospital inpatient beds in the community that are occupied: 67.1%. Anything under 80% is considered low.
  • Percentage of all intensive care unit beds in use: 62.9%. Anything under 80% is also considered low for this metric.
  • Percentage of hospital beds in the community that are occupied by patients with COVID-19: 1.8%. Anything under 5% is considered low and under 3% is very low.

As of Friday, those metrics were at the following levels:

  • Staffed inpatient beds occupied by COVID-19 patients (seven-day average): 3.3%
  • New COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents (seven-day total): 2.5
  • Percentage of hospital inpatient beds in the community that are occupied: 65.6%
  • Percentage of all intensive care unit beds in use: 58.2%
  • Percentage of hospital beds in the community that are occupied by patients with COVID-19: 3.3%

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard told reporters during a news briefing this week that multiple factors are contributing to why hospitalizations remain lower versus prior waves of the pandemic. One of them is natural immunity, he said.

“We’ve seen tremendous transmission over a two-year period,” Stoddard said. “And so the farther on … we go, the more we build up immunity based on infection in addition to vaccination.”

The more immunity that residents develop from previous exposures and vaccinations, “the less likely it is that future variants will cause as severe illness, unless there’s a major change in that variant,” Stoddard added.

Sean O’Donnell, the county’s public health emergency preparedness manager, has said in multiple news briefings — including this week — that he and colleagues are focused on controlling outbreaks in isolated areas, where people might be more vulnerable. That includes congregate living facilities, assisted living centers and nursing homes, O’Donnell said.

Health officials, including Stoddard, have also said that it’s important for residents to isolate and seek treatment if needed if they test positive for the coronavirus. Officials would like to see residents report positive rapid tests, but say that it’s more important that people isolate themselves in order to prevent transmitting COVID-19 to other residents. 

The officials say there’s no one metric that would determine if wider restrictions and mandates — like indoor masking, for instance — would be implemented. But they note that there are more tools at this point in the pandemic — vaccines, antiviral treatments and widely available testing — to help fight the virus and to monitor when cases will rise and determine how the health care system should respond.

James Bridgers, the county’s acting health officer, told reporters during a news briefing that county residents have always been testing at a high rate when compared to nearby jurisdictions. Rapid tests results are not always logged with public health agencies so those are difficult to track, officials say.

But data from county clinics and other sites show that about 40,000 tests have been administered weekly, in recent weeks. Washington, D.C., is ahead of the county at about 50,000 tests a week, Bridgers said.

Bridgers said public health officials continue to advise residents to stay home and test for the coronavirus if they feel ill. They ask residents to do the same if they feel they might have been exposed. 

He added that residents should stay up to date with their vaccinations and should get booster shots if they are eligible.

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