LEONARDTOWN, Md.  – As COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations spike nationwide during this holiday season, St. Mary’s County has been fighting to stay safe amid the surge. Unfortunately, cases have continued to climb.

Over the week of December 20, St. Mary’s County recorded 1,141 new COVID cases. As of Thursday of this week, the county has added 715 more cases.

“In the past two weeks we have seen an extraordinary surge in community demand for testing, likely attributed to rising case rates fueled by the Omicron variant, ongoing Delta surge, holiday gatherings/travel, and other illnesses with symptoms similar to COVID-19,” Dr. Meena Brewster, St. Mary’s County Health Officer said. “This rise in demand is being experienced across the state and nation straining healthcare infrastructure and test supplies.”

According to the county’s Board of Health, this recent increase in cases was expected. The board mentioned during a recent St. Mary’s County Commissioners’ meeting that this holiday season infections will spike and most of the hospitalizations will come from the unvaccinated. What they did not expect was how much it would strain their test supplies.

This has led the county to make some new adjustments. Some changes made have included an expansion of testing capabilities, by offering St. Mary’s citizens free PCR tests and at-home testing kits. But there are some current problems that the very nature that the various strains of the virus present.

Omicron is currently considered a key factor for the spike. This variant is considered much more infectious than the previous ones, including Delta according to the health department, and the vaccines are less effective because of this.

“Based on the acceleration of local surge and the presence of Omicron in the United States, it is likely that the surge we are seeing locally is related to Omicron, as well as ongoing Delta cases; however, we don’t yet have the genomics analysis data for this. Only some positive COVID-19 test samples are sent for strain type analysis due to the cost of this additional laboratory analysis,” Brewster explained. “Rapid antigen tests are not sent for strain type analysis. Positive PCR test samples are sent only upon request of the testing provider. It can take several weeks for strain-type analysis to return results. Therefore the numbers of variant cases reported may underestimate the actual presence of these variant cases in our county.”

Although the situation is not ideal, the St. Mary’s County Health Department continues to believe in the years of research on this disease.

“The St. Mary’s County Health Department (SMCHD) continues to work closely with federal, state, and local partners on pandemic monitoring and response efforts,” Dr. Brewster said. “Science and prior experience tell us what are effective strategies at preventing or mitigating spread.”

To promote these effective strategies, the St. Mary’s County Health Department plans to continue the expansion of its testing capacity. They will continue to do their rapid testing at their three testing sites. Also, they plan to give out nearly 2,500 at-home test kits at St. Mary’s County Public Libraries. They also held a drive-through event at the Hollywood Volunteer Fire House on December 30, where roughly 8,000 at-home tests were distributed.

We should note that all the tests are free. However, rapid and PCR tests are available by appointment only at primary care providers and St. Mary’s County’s local testing sites.

The health department said they want to clarify that everyone needs to trust science. They urge everyone to follow the strategies set ahead of them by the health department.

“I urge all community members to do their part – get vaccinated, boosted, and take other preventative measures to help slow the spread. This includes wearing more effective masks indoors when with non-household members, avoiding large indoor gatherings, and staying home and away from others if you are feeling sick,” Brewster said.

For more information on the COVID-19 guidelines, you can check out St. Mary’s County Health Department’s official website.

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