Garrett presser

In this image taken from video, Paul Edwards, Board of Garrett County Commissioners president, left, reads an order Sunday declaring a state of emergency in the county after two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed. Also pictured are Commissioner Larry Tichnell, right, and John Frank, director of emergency management.

OAKLAND — Garrett County declared a state of emergency Sunday after the county’s first two cases of COVID-19 were confirmed, as health officials said they were researching the patients’ contacts to determine who else may have been exposed.

The patients who tested positive were both women over 60 who traveled within the United States to areas known to have COVID-19 cases, according to a news release issued Sunday by the county health department.

The women, who were tested for the virus at Garrett Regional Medical Center, had contact with each other.

“Garrett County has been preparing for the possibility of a case of COVID-19 since it was first reported in the United States,” said Bob Stephens, Garrett County health officer. “The health department is coordinating our response efforts and will continue to work to reduce the spread of infection and protect the health of all people in Garrett County.”

In a video posted to the county website later Sunday, Board of Commissioners Chairman Paul Edwards read a declaration of the state of emergency that took effect at 5 p.m., saying a “public health catastrophe has occurred or a threat thereof is imminent,” and the order allows first responders to prepare.

Both patients self-isolated after being tested and have not needed hospitalization.

“This news confirms that rural Garrett County is indeed part of the wider world, and COVID-19 will impact us to some degree,” said Dr. Jennifer Corder, Garrett County’s deputy health officer. “The most important thing the public can do is to follow the CDC guidance, which includes the standard hygiene practices we recommend to prevent the spread of flu and other viruses.

“In addition, it is critical to minimize potential spread by maintaining social distance between people. Most importantly, we must protect our precious health care providers, including hospital-based workers from unnecessary potential exposure,” she said. “Stay at home, especially if you are mildly ill and speak to your provider by telephone.”

For most people, the virus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, including fever, cough and shortness of breath. For others, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause severe illness.

“We want the public to remember that most COVID-19 patients can self-quarantine and recover at home with the help of their physician,” said Mark Boucot, GRMC’s president and CEO. “If you are exhibiting symptoms or have been exposed to someone diagnosed with the virus, contact your doctor. Your physician will know what steps to take and will advise accordingly.”

Health leaders are asking people to take the illness seriously and to limit unnecessary social exposure by staying home, practicing good hand-washing habits and remaining home if sick.

‘Reschedule your visit’

With news surrounding coronavirus changing by the day, county commissioners are asking vacationers to postpone their trips to Garrett County.

Gov. Larry Hogan ordered last week a statewide reduction in the number of people allowed to congregate from 50 to 10.

“To further protect our residents, visitors and hospitality employees, we request that visitors postpone trips to the mountains, Deep Creek Lake and the surrounding area beginning immediately,” Edwards said Saturday. “This action is necessary to ensure compliance with social distancing and flatten the curve of this dangerous coronavirus. At this point, the only weapon we have to combat this potentially fatal virus is to take drastic measures. All of us have to work together to outlast and shorten the cycle of this pandemic.”

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