CUMBERLAND — A COVID-19 triage tent will once again be installed in the parking lot immediately outside the emergency department at UPMC Western Maryland.
The tent will be fully operational Thursday, and used to prevent potential overcrowding and address members of the public that go to the hospital believing they have the novel coronavirus, hospital officials said Wednesday.
UPMC Western Maryland previously deployed a COVID-19 tent on March 13 and removed it May 12.
“As expected, there are growing numbers of people with COVID-19 in the communities UPMC serves throughout Western Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York,” the hospital system stated. “Across the UPMC system, COVID-19 cases occupy less than 5% of our hospital beds. We remain fully able to care for all patients, with or without COVID-19. Our hospitals — urban, suburban and rural — are well staffed, have excellent personal protective equipment plans and supplies, and have the resources to serve the health care needs of our communities.”
UPMC facilities are safe, and staff well-equipped to properly care for patients with COVID-19, hospital officials said.
“All UPMC hospitals, facilities and providers have the support of a world class academic medical center, using a wealth of knowledge and guidance on best practices,” hospital officials stated. “Should the need arise, we can share resources, transfer patients or mobilize staff between facilities. With the increase in cases in the communities we serve, it remains important for everyone to follow the guidance of our public health experts. This includes wearing a mask, following physical distancing recommendations, staying home when ill and washing hands frequently.”
Due to the triage tent deployment, traffic patterns near the emergency department will be adjusted and spaces have been allocated to allow for additional parking.
Hospital officials advise people to be cautious when driving in the area.
Designated COVID-19 unit prepared at UPMC Western Maryland
“At UPMC Western Maryland, we have one designated COVID-19 unit that is currently operational to meet our community’s health care needs,” Nancy Adams, UPMC Western Maryland senior vice president and chief operating officer, said via email Wednesday.
“Because UPMC hospitals operate together as part of a system, it is not helpful to report individual hospital totals,” she said. “What I can tell you is there are currently 81 inpatients in the UPMC hospitals that serve the Altoona, Pa. and Western Maryland region.”
Allegany County has Maryland’s highest COVID-19 case rate
The Allegany County Health Department Wednesday reported a surge in local COVID-19 cases.
“Over the last seven days, Allegany County has seen 37.5 COVID cases per 100,000 population, the highest case rate of any jurisdiction in Maryland,” ACHD said via press release. “The Maryland case rate stands at 14.2 cases per 100,000 population.”
Ninety new cases have been identified since Monday.
They include four females and six males ages 12 and under, 10 females and four males in their teens, three females and four males in their 20s, five females and nine males in their 30s, six females and three males in their 40s, four females and four males in their 50s, nine females and four males in their 60s, six females and one male in their 70s and four females and four males in their 80s.
“These new COVID-19 cases bring the county total to 947 cases,” the release states.
“UPMC Western Maryland has reported to the Allegany County Health Department that it has seen an increased number of patients with COVID-19 in its urgent care clinics and in the emergency department, as well as a rise in COVID-19 hospitalizations,” the release states. “As cases surge in our area, the Allegany County Health Department encourages all county residents to avoid gatherings, big or small.”
Residents should continue to take steps to prevent the spread of COVID-19, including wearing a mask, social distancing and practicing good hand hygiene, health officials said.
“The Allegany County Health Department and NORC at the University of Chicago are conducting contact tracing in Allegany County but are experiencing a large influx in cases so there may be some delays,” the release states. “Please assist in the community-wide contact tracing effort. If you test positive for COVID-19, reach out to your close contacts to let them know. If you have been in close contact with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, quarantine for 14 days and watch for symptoms.”
The World Health Organization in May advised governments that before reopening, rates of positivity in testing should remain at 5% or lower for at least 14 days.
The latest COVID-19 daily case positivity rate from the Maryland Department of Health lists six jurisdictions above 5%, including Allegany at 5.59%, Garrett at 5.8%, Dorchester at 6.08%, Prince George’s at 5.24%, Queen Anne’s at 5.2% and Somerset at 6.59%.
Across the state Wednesday, there were 1,000 new cases and 10 deaths in the past 24 hours.
The Garrett County Health Department reported 18 new cases of the disease, bringing the current county total positive tests to 194.
The latest COVID-19 cases include: a female age 10-19 years old, two males in their 20s, a male and a female in their 30s, one female in her 40s, four males and two females in their 50s, a male and a female in their 60s, a male and a female in their 70s, and two females in their 80s.
Currently, 35 people are in isolation due to a positive COVID-19 test.
On Wednesday, Garrett’s seven-day case rate per 100,000 people was 10.8.
Still no plan for state-run testing site locally
Maryland public health officials are closely monitoring the rise in cases in Western Maryland and across the state, and are increasingly concerned with the elevation in the data metrics, MDH Communications Deputy Director Charles Gischlar said via email Wednesday.
However, there are no plans to create a state-run COVID-19 testing site.
“Testing sites are available in every corner of the state and supporting a variety of site models allows Maryland to maintain a very robust overall testing capacity,” he said. “We welcome the privately operated sites that provide a large number of testing options throughout the state, including in Allegany and Garrett counties.”
A search of COVID-19 testing facilities on the state health department website showed sites in Cumberland and LaVale that charge roughly $100 depending on insurance coverage.
School system student phase-in plans to be evaluated
Allegany County Public Schools is working with ACHD daily to review health metrics, ACPS Public Information Officer Mia Cross said via email Wednesday.
The school system plans to phase-in sixth-grade students on Nov. 16.
“But that too will be evaluated closer to that time to make a final decision,” Cross said. “As of right now, we are not bringing any more groups back before then.”
ACPS is in the initial stages of planning the secondary transition, she said.
“It will be a careful and deliberate process as we phase in the middle school grades, beginning with Grade 6,” Cross said. “Hybrid learning structures are subject to change based on health metrics and guidance provided by (ACHD).”
Meanwhile, Braddock Middle School, which stopped serving breakfast and lunch Monday, resumed meal distribution Wednesday.
Cross said she could not comment on whether the temporary food service disruption was related to COVID-19.
Reasons for sharp increase in local COVID-19 cases
People are getting tired of the precautions, Dr. Judy Stone, an infectious disease specialist who spent 25 years in solo practice in Cumberland and is a Forbes.com senior contributor for health care issues, said via email Wednesday.
“They want to go back to their normal lives,” she said. “So they are taking shortcuts and not distancing as much, and moving gatherings inside. Doing this, and not wearing masks, is leading to more cases.”
Public safety depends on fast communication from health officials
“A number of people were exposed to a person at Emmanuel Episcopal Church at a Sunday evening program,” Stone said. “The known index patient became ill later that evening.”
It’s imperative that people who attended the services quarantine, including from others in their household, ideally for 10-14 days, she said.
“It would be so helpful if the ACHD alerted the community immediately as to such group exposures, and is incomprehensible to me why they don’t,” Stone said. “It is essential to public safety to respond quickly to such events.”
As of Wednesday evening, messages left about the Sunday cases for ACHD, as well as the church, had not been returned.