With Covid-19 cases surging locally, Wicomico County Board of Education members adopted the state mask mandate for public school classrooms in a 5-2 vote, despite vocal opposition from parents in the audience.
Board members John Palmer and Tonya Laird Lewis who voted against it were cheered and applauded during a meeting Monday night at Wicomico High School.
“Just because the state did it, doesn’t make it legal,” one man said after the vote was taken. He also urged board members to “do the right thing.”
Another parent said it should be his choice to mask his children, not the school board or the state.
The county schools have required masks since the first day of school under the direction of schools Superintendent Donna Hanlin.
Since then, 18 positive cases have been reported at Parkside High School as of Sept. 15, according to the state Health Department’s Coronavirus website, which updates data for schools every Wednesday.
Hanlin said during Monday’s meeting that positive cases by school also will be posted on the school system’s website.
Over the past month, more than 1,400 new Covid cases and 18 more deaths have been reported in Wicomico County. Low vaccination rates, combined with the Delta variant, have been blamed for the surge.
The number of hospitalized patients also has spiked in recent weeks, said Dr. Jim Trumble, Vice President of Clinical Integration at TidalHealth Peninsula Regional. As of Tuesday, there were 55 Covid patients in the hospital.
“Up until last week we were hovering around 40,” he said.
Although cases were on the decline in early summer, they have steadily increased since the Fourth of July weekend. Trumble said. But some recent analytics suggest cases might have peaked.
The increase of cases forced TidalHealth to postpone some elective surgeries, but cases are decided on a week-by-week basis. Some surgeries have been moved to TidalHealth Nanticoke which had more available beds. Others have been scheduled early in the morning with patients under observation all day and then discharged in the evening to avoid overnight stays.
Trumble, who also serves as Medical Director of TidalHealth’s Covid vaccination clinic, said he is winding down its operation so the hospital can conduct weekly Covid tests on unvaccinated employees as required by the state.
Some have decided to get vaccinated since the testing started, but there are currently a couple hundred or so employees who are still undergoing regular tests.
Trumble said he and Dr. Kathryn Fiddler, the hospital’s Vice President of Population Health, make regular trips up on the floors to talk to unvaccinated employees and address their concerns.
“There’s a lot of hesitancy out there,” he said.
As of Tuesday, Wicomico County has had 9,790 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 198 deaths. Health officials also reported that 48,163 county residents have received the first dose of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, 43,893 have gotten a second dose and 4,191 got a Johnson & Johnson single dose vaccine.
The patient count in Somerset is now 3,035 with 46 deaths. First doses of vaccine have gone to 10,798 residents, 9,532 have gotten second doses and 1,120 got single doses.
Additional cases have also been confirmed in Worcester County, which now reports 4,527 people as having the virus and 111 deaths. So far 31,493 people have gotten their first shots, 28,941 had a second dose and 2,650 got a single dose.
Dorchester County counts 3,681 cases, 69 deaths, 15,293 first doses of vaccine, 13,741 second shots and 2,268 single doses. There are 2,767 reported cases in Caroline County with 39 deaths, 14,303 first vaccinations, 13,068 second doses and 3,127 single doses.
Statewide in Maryland, 521,210 cases have been confirmed, with 10,081 confirmed deaths and 228 probable deaths. The current hospitalization totals of people with the virus stands at 825. The number of people in intensive care is 202.
Across Maryland, more than 4.1 million people have tested negative for the virus.
As of Monday, the state has administered more than 7.8 million doses of vaccine, with more than 3.8 million people now fully vaccinated and 82.9 percent of the population with at least one dose.
Nationally, there are now more than 42.3 million cases with 676,861 deaths. Roughly 181.7 million people in the United States – 55 percent of the population -- are fully vaccinated.