With coronavirus metrics in Frederick County looking better than they have in months, the county’s Board of Health met Thursday night to discuss the state of local virus transmission and what the county’s response to the disease will look like in the future.
Frederick County added 35 new coronavirus cases on Thursday and logged one more death attributed to the virus. At 3.83 percent, the local seven-day positivity rate sat at the lowest it’s been since July.
At Thursday’s meeting, county health officer Dr. Barbara Brookmyer predicted that COVID-19 will one day become “endemic” in Frederick County — meaning the virus will still be spreading, but the community won’t see the sort of huge spikes in infections it saw earlier this winter.
“Hopefully, that’s what our future will be,” she said. “Hopefully we’re there. Unfortunately, it will only be in the retrospective view that we’ll recognize where we are right now.”
Recently, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention unveiled a new tool to help jurisdictions gauge what coronavirus safety precautions they should take at a given time — “COVID-19 Community Levels.”
The new metric is based on the local case rate and hospital statistics, and is meant to be used to make recommendations for the overall community. Frederick County currently has low COVID-19 community levels, which means — although businesses can set their own policies — the CDC isn’t recommending that everyone wear a mask in public indoor settings.
People with COVID-19 symptoms and those who have tested positive for the virus or have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19 should still mask up, Brookmyer said.
Brookmyer acknowledged that the introduction of the new tool was confusing. Previously, the most popular metric for making decisions about local COVID-19 safety precautions was community transmission levels, which is based solely on the case rate and positivity rate data.
Coronavirus community transmission is still considered substantial in Frederick County. Health care settings, such as hospitals and nursing homes, continue to use the transmission metric for setting mask guidelines.
According to projections about the trajectory of coronavirus spread in Frederick County, however, transmission levels may drop to “moderate” as soon as three weeks from now. By March 22, Brookmyer said Frederick County is expected to be logging as few as 10 cases per day.
Dr. Kathy Weishaar, vice president of medical affairs and chief medical officer at Frederick Health, noted with a smile on Thursday that she had a more positive presentation to share than she’s had at previous health board meetings.
As of Thursday evening, there were 15 coronavirus patients hospitalized at Frederick Health, four of whom were in the intensive care unit. Six of the 15 patients are unvaccinated, according to Frederick Health’s COVID-19 dashboard.
The hospital continues to test every patient admitted to the facility for COVID-19, Weishaar said. She didn’t have data Thursday evening of how many of the 15 coronavirus patients currently hospitalized were admitted because of the virus versus how many were admitted for another health concern, only to find out they had COVID-19 upon receiving a test.
Frederick Health transitioned away from operating under crisis standards of care about a month ago, the emergency protocols it had leaving in place during the omicron surge to channel limited resources to the patients with the highest levels of need. Though staffing remains a challenge, Weishar said — one that she doesn’t expect the health system to fully resolve for a year or more — she added the human resources department has been doing a “bang-up job” recruiting.
The health system continues to offer testing for the virus, Weishaar said, as well as its monoclonal antibody therapy clinic, its long haul coronavirus rehabilitation clinic and Evusheld — an injectable medication meant to prevent severely immunocompromised patients from contracting COVID-19.
But now that Frederick Health and the local community is out of the crisis period it was in earlier this winter, Weishaar said it’s time for the health system to regroup and reflect.
“We’re having active discussions about what the crystal ball shows for what the future may hold and how we stand down some of what we’ve done, but remain prepared to address any future concerns that come up,” she said.
Like Brookmyer, Weishaar doesn’t expect COVID-19 to ever fully go away.
Maintaining a “sense of readiness” will be important, she said. It was a lot of work for the health department and health system to stand up the infrastructure needed to respond to the virus, she said. Frederick Health will need to be thoughtful about the resources it continues to invest in these operations, while also remaining in a “state of preparedness.”
“Whenever there’s something like this, there’s always lessons learned,” she said. “I remain incredibly proud of the team at Frederick. I think they really rose to the challenge and did an amazing job. I know everyone’s breathing a sigh of relief, and some folks are probably even taking a well-deserved vacation.”
Follow Angela Roberts on Twitter: @24_angier