CUMBERLAND — Jenelle Mayer, Allegany County health officer, said Tuesday that the county’s COVID-19 infection rate remains three times the rest of the state while students 12 to 17 statewide are being vaccinated at twice the rate of Allegany County students.

Mayer gave an update on the latest COVID numbers at Tuesday’s regular meeting of the Allegany County Board of Education held at Mountain Ridge High School.

“As reported last time, we are significantly far behind in our vaccination rates and our case rates continue to be well above the state average,” said Mayer. “Today, Allegany County’s COVID case rate is 53.76 cases per 100,000 population as compared to the Maryland case rate of 17.63 per 100,000. We are at about three times the state rate at this point. Our percent positivity is 10.41 while Maryland’s positivity rate is 3.88%.”

Mayer said the gap between local and the statewide vaccinated and unvaccinated individuals remains wide.

“Our percent of population that is fully vaccinated is now at 45.2% compared to Maryland which is 65.2%,” she said. “When we look at individuals ages 12 to 17 who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 we are at 29.9% compared to 63.7% in the state of Maryland as a whole.

“Those with at least one dose in the ages 12 to 17 are at 36%, so that number has gone up a little bit. In Maryland that number is 73.2%.”

The wide disparity between Allegany County and the rest of the state first became evident in early September. Mayer said the cases reached a high point in December 2020 and then retreated until they began rising sharply again last month.

“In early December last year is where we hit our worst point,” she said. “We hit another small peak in September and are starting to come down from that peak at this point, according to the graph.

“Of course we can’t predict what is going to happen tomorrow or next week. But it does look like we are headed downward with our case rate right now.”

Mayer also said the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has approved a shorter quarantine period for anyone who may have been exposed to the virus, with the addition of a seven-day quarantine option.

“Tonight, I’d like to talk about quarantine options,” said Mayer. “This is for students who (have had) close contact to a case and are symptom-free. The CDC allows for three options. You can do the full 14-day quarantine, you can do a 10-day quarantine, which is considered a shortened quarantine, or a seven-day quarantine with a negative test on day five or later.

“Before this point, we had not allowed for that seven-day option. We are open to allowing that option for students in order to cut their quarantine (time) even by a few days ... by three days, so they can get back to in-person learning sooner. Other jurisdictions have made this decision as well. On Monday, Anne Arundel County made this decision to allow for the seven-day option. We at the Allegany County Health Department are ready to do that as well.”

BOE member Tammy Fraley pointed out that test results can take two or three days in some cases.

“If your test is positive then you isolate for 10 days,” said Mayer. “If you refuse to do the test then it is 10 days. But if you would be home for the seven minimum days ... when it takes a couple of days for that test result to come back ... if it would take until the eighth day (to get the results) you could end up at home another day waiting for the result.”

“I think that is wonderful news,” said Crystal Bender, BOE president. “One of the biggest complaints we are hearing is that healthy kids are sitting home for those 10 or 11 days. I know we have to exercise caution but I think we are and I think it is wonderful now that we are able to shorten the period.”

Debra Frank, BOE member, asked what the difference is when a student is vaccinated or not vaccinated.

“If a fully vaccinated student is in close contact to a case, as long as they are not having symptoms, they do not need to quarantine,” said Mayer. “Obviously, that is the best way to minimize how often you have to quarantine by being fully vaccinated. If you are in close contact to a case and you are not fully vaccinated, then comes the three options of the 14-day, 10-day and seven-day with a five-day negative test.”

Mayer added that masks will continue to be worn in schools. “We have our mask requirement in place to try to minimize transmission in the classroom and I think that is an allowable option at this point.”

Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter.

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Greg Larry is a reporter at the Cumberland Times-News. To reach him, call 304-639-4951, email glarry@times-news.com and follow him on Twitter @greglarryctn.