UPDATED: Number of Montgomery coronavirus cases more than doubles in four days

UPDATED: Number of Montgomery coronavirus cases more than doubles in four days

Bethesda gym says a member tested positive; governor sets new limits on public gatherings

| Published:
Coronavirus dept of health photo

This story was updated at 11 a.m. March 16, 2020, to include numbers the state just released about the number of coronavirus disease cases.

The number of coronavirus disease cases in Montgomery County has more than doubled since Thursday, from 6 to 15, according to figures released Monday morning.

Overall, Maryland now has 37 positive cases, up from 12 as of Thursday.

The latest jurisdiction breakdown of cases includes 15 in Montgomery, 10 in Prince George’s, four in Baltimore County, two in Harford and one apiece in Anne Arundel, Baltimore City, Charles, Carroll, Howard and Talbot.

During an afternoon press conference on Sunday, Montgomery County’s health officer, Dr. Travis Gayles, described six new Montgomery patients as four men, ranging in age from 20s to 70s, and two women in their 20s and 30s.

That did not count three additional positive cases in Montgomery included in figures released Monday morning, giving the county a total of 15.

Gayles said the county is going to continue reporting updates on the aggregate number of cases, but not biographical descriptions of the patients, unless there is an unusual angle, such as high-risk exposure. An example, he said, is an employee of the National Institutes of Health contracting coronavirus disease.

The person works for the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases, but is not involved in patient care, according to an NIH press release. The person is quarantined at home and “doing well,” the press release says.

The person did not have symptoms at work, but after feeling sick, stayed home. The person called NIH’s Occupational Medical Service and got tested. Employees who work near this person were contacted and will be monitored, the press release says.

Equinox Bethesda, a gym on Elm Street that’s part of a chain, said one of its members tested positive last week. The person did not have symptoms at the club, according to the company.

A statement Equinox sent to Bethesda Beat and WUSA over the weekend says: “We were recently made aware that [a] member of the Bethesda club has tested positive for COVID-19. The individual was asymptomatic at the time they visited the club on Monday (March 9) and has not been back to the club since.

“Consistent with our practices, the entire club was thoroughly disinfected with an EPA-approved cleaning solution on Monday night, and has been similarly disinfected three times each day since then. As we have been, we will continue to prioritize everyone’s health and safety by taking all necessary precautionary measures and following the advice of public health officials.”

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services, said Sunday that she did not know if the Equinox Bethesda case involved someone who lived or was tested in Maryland.

Siobhan Gorman, a member of Equinox Bethesda, asked the company on Twitter about its policy for notifying members. “Very surprised to learn you have chosen not to notify all Bethesda Equinox members of the case this week at your gym,” she wrote in a tweet. She added in another tweet: “I heard about the Bethesda case from a friend and had to go to management and ask to get any information on the incident.”

In a Facebook post on Saturday, she wrote, “The gym learned about it yesterday (Friday). While they sent out a general COVID email last night, they did not disclose the case then and still (24 hours later) have not notified the broader membership. If you belong to another Equinox, you should ask them directly if they had any cases. Don’t count on their telling you on their own.”

A message sent to members at about 6 p.m. Friday mentioned precautions, cutbacks in classes and a warning about email scams, but does not mention the COVID-19 case. Several other Equinox Bethesda members told Bethesda Beat over the weekend that they did not get a notification from the club about the positive case.

In an email to Bethesda Beat, Gorman wrote, “The slice of members notified was very small and didn’t even cover all members who were there Monday. Broadly, the club membership was not notified.” She added, “With information on COVID-19 in such short supply, I sure hope Equinox starts notifying all gym members at an affected facility, when there is a case there. Members need to be able to make choices about their health based on accurate information. Right now, they can’t.”

An employee at the club who answered the phone on Sunday morning directed questions to the company’s public relations department, which provided the statement a short time later.

In response to follow-up questions, Lissa Martin, speaking on behalf of Equinox, wrote in an email that Equinox shared a general message with all members on Friday and a separate message, also on Friday, only to members who had been at the club on Monday, the same day as the coronavirus patient. The message only to select members, mentioning the positive case, said the person who later tested positive was at the club for a personal training session and “remained on the strength floor during the visit.”

State officials, including Gov. Larry Hogan, have said they expect the number of cases of coronavirus disease, or COVID-19, to keep increasing. The state has moved from “containment,” or trying to track individual cases and isolate patients, to “mitigation,” or implementing large-scale changes to slow the spread of the disease within the population at large.

Hogan announced new restrictions on Sunday, ordering that all Maryland casinos, race tracks and simulcast betting facilities shut down indefinitely.

Hogan previously imposed a ban on any gathering of at least 250 people. On Sunday morning, he reiterated that failing to follow that is considered a crime and will be enforced.

“It is critical to public health and safety that bars, restaurants, and other businesses across the state comply with the law,” Hogan said in a press release. “Anyone who hosts or is part of the crowds in bars this weekend is jeopardizing the health of others and must avoid any contact with family members or friends over the age of 60 or those with underlying health conditions.”

Hogan has said that people older than 60 and those with underlying health conditions are at the greatest risk of getting coronavirus disease and being in danger if they do.

The state has set additional restrictions with that in mind for long-term care facilities, such as nursing homes, assisted living facilities and retirement communities. Access is now limited to essential visitors, who will be screened for respiratory symptoms as they enter.

Health and government officials have emphasized the need for careful interaction, including keeping a safe distance from other people, and in washing hands.

All Maryland public schools will be closed starting Monday, running through at least March 27.

Private schools have done the same, including all schools within the Archdiocese of Washington. Public masses have been canceled.

Schools within the University System of Maryland are closing their campuses and switching to online classes.

Elrich said young people must realize that the time off from school is not the same as snow days or spring break. This is a serious health crisis that requires people of all ages to follow directives to stop socializing in large groups for a while, he said.

Even though young people might be at less risk and healthier, they also might be carriers, even without symptoms, and could put their families or other older people around them in danger through exposure, Elrich said.

There have been widespread other closings in Montgomery County and throughout the state, such as libraries, recreation centers and indoor park facilities. Many public and private entities are having employees work from home.

Leaders in the Maryland General Assembly decided Sunday that this year’s 90-day session will end early. Instead of April 6, the last day of the session will be Wednesday. They plan to reconvene the legislature for a special session at the end of May.

Montgomery County officials have said that the people who had the first three confirmed cases in Maryland — all Montgomery County residents — have recovered.

As of Saturday, the World Health Organization reported there were more than 142,000 cases of COVID-19 worldwide and about 5,400 deaths. It now considered a global pandemic.

As of Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention listed more than 1,600 cases in the U.S. and 41 deaths.

Of those, 138 were considered travel-related, 129 were from close contact and the rest were under investigation.

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