Covid-19 continued to surge across Maryland over the past week with some 25,000 new cases added over the Christmas weekend alone.
The state set a new record on Christmas Eve with 9,859 positive cases, shattering the previous record set the day before with 6,869 cases.
Among the positive cases is Acting Wicomico County Executive John Psota who announced on Monday that he had tested positive for the virus after experiencing minor symptoms. He is fully vaccinated and following CDC guidelines.
“As we deal with the sharp rise in Covid cases in Wicomico County and across Maryland, I urge you to get vaccinated and boosted if you have not already done so,” Psota said in a written statement. “I also encourage you to wear masks in indoor gatherings with family or in public venues.”
In response to the current surge, the Wicomico County Health Department added another testing day this week after appointments filled up in advance of the regular Tuesday testing. The second testing clinic is scheduled on Thursday, Dec. 30, from 1 to 3 p.m. at the Wicomico Civic Center. Call 410-341-4600 to make an appointment. Walk-ups also are welcome.
The health department also offers regular Covid vaccine clinics at the civic center. Health officials are stressing the importance of getting vaccinated, including a third dose which offers even more protection against the Delta and Omicron variants. Unvaccinated people risk death or long-term effects of the virus referred to as long Covid.
Vaccines are free and available at most pharmacies or through the health department. To find a vaccination site visit covidvax.maryland.gov.
Closings and cancellations
The surge in cases prompted Wicomico County officials to cancel the Governors Challenge basketball tournament.
Governors Challenge ticket holders will be automatically issued a full refund. Refunds will be made back to the credit card used to purchase, or by check for customers who paid with cash or check. Ticket holders should allow two weeks for credit card refunds to process. Refunds issued by check may take up to four weeks.
Women Supporting Women, a local support organization for breast cancer patients, announced it had locked its doors to the Salisbury office and was available by appointment only.
This week, the Maryland Judiciary announced that effective Dec. 29, it will reduce operations at all courts in response to the Omicron variant surge. The interim operational plan will last until Feb. 8, pending further order.
Clerks’ offices in both the District Court of Maryland and circuit courts throughout the state will remain open to the public. The Court of Appeals of Maryland and Court of Special Appeals of Maryland remain fully operational, but the chief judge may determine whether to hold proceedings in person or remotely.
The District Court and circuit courts will hear specific case types remotely or in-person, but jury trials will not be held until the Judiciary is able to re-enter Phase V of its reopening plan. Jury trials that have already commenced will proceed to conclusion. All jury trials scheduled between Dec. 29 and Feb. 8 will be rescheduled. Marylanders who are currently serving as jurors are encouraged to contact the local circuit court.
Hospital suspends visitation, surgeries
At TidalHealth officials announced that patient visitation has been suspended temporarily as of Dec. 27, at both TidalHealth Peninsula Regional in Salisbury and TidalHealth Nanticoke in Seaford.
At the same time, there will also be a temporary pause at both hospitals of elective, non-emergency surgeries that require an overnight stay.
“A spike in Covid-19 cases, other seasonal illnesses and the many health needs of our communities, coupled with unprecedented workforce constraints have come together to create a perfect storm for healthcare providers,” said Dr. Sarah Arnett, Vice President of Patient Care Services and Chief Nursing Officer at TidalHealth. “We are taking these steps for the safety of our patients and our health care team.”
A directive from the state of Maryland, a sharp increase in Covid-19 rates, high patient volumes and demand for hospital beds at TidalHealth led to the decision to pause certain surgeries.
“The Covid-19 omicron variant and the continued presence of the Delta variant are driving high rates of transmission and hospitalization,” said Steve Leonard, TidalHealth President and CEO. “Getting vaccinated can reduce the severity of illness and the risk of transmission and will help take the pressure off our extremely busy facilities.”
The pause will remain in place until Maryland Covid-19 hospitalizations fall below the 1,200 mark in accordance with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan’s directive.
TidalHealth will continuously evaluate the current staffing and capacity issues so that this suspension of visitation and elective surgeries requiring an overnight stay can be lifted as soon as it’s safe to do so.
The visitation policy will also be revisited. Exceptions to the current no-visitors policy will include end-of-life visitation and disabled people who need a support person, as well as Labor & Delivery/Mother-Baby patients, who may have one support person with them at all times (one designated person the whole time) as well as a doula who has been through the approval process.
CDC shortens quarantine
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is shortening the recommended time for isolation from 10 days for people with Covid-19 to five days, if asymptomatic, followed by five days of wearing a mask when around others.
The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the one or two days prior to onset of symptoms and the two to three days after. Therefore, people who test positive should isolate for 5 days and, if asymptomatic at that time, they may leave isolation if they can continue to mask for 5 days to minimize the risk of infecting others.
Additionally, CDC is updating the recommended quarantine period for those exposed to Covid-19. For people who are unvaccinated or are more than six months out from their second mRNA dose (or more than two months after the J&J vaccine) and not yet boosted, CDC now recommends quarantine for five days followed by strict mask use for an additional five days.
Alternatively, if a five-day quarantine is not feasible, it is imperative that an exposed person wear a well-fitting mask at all times when around others for 10 days after exposure. Individuals who have received their booster shot do not need to be quarantined following an exposure, but should wear a mask for 10 days after the exposure. For all those exposed, best practice would also include a Covid test at day five after exposure. If symptoms occur, individuals should immediately quarantine until a negative test confirms symptoms are not attributable to COVID-19.
As of Monday, TidalHealth had 42 Covid-positive cases, 21 of whom are Wicomico County residents, according to the Wicomico County Health Department. The majority of the patients are unvaccinated.
Statewide, there were 1,826 people hospitalized as of Tuesday.
Maryland has reported 675,364 confirmed cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began, and 11,437 confirmed deaths.
Nationally, there are now more than 52.7 million cases with 818,388 deaths. Roughly 205.2 million people in the U.S. – 63 percent of the population -- are fully vaccinated, according to Johns Hopkins University.
The Maryland Department of Health website, which experienced a security breach last month, is partially back online, but the case count and number of deaths by county was still unavailable Tuesday.