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CUMBERLAND — Allegany County’s recent spike of COVID-19 cases can be attributed to some simple measures that too many people ignore, a local health expert said.

The Allegany County Health Department typically reports new cases of the disease on Monday, Wednesday and Friday.

On Monday, ACHD reported 35 new cases, which brings the county’s cumulative total to more than 600.

“The rise in Allegany County cases reflects a pattern seen in rural communities across the country,” 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 on Tuesday.

“(Some) people don’t think COVID will happen here,” she said.

For months, local, state, national and world health experts have said to avoid spread of the disease, people should wear masks and maintain distance from others.

“People are simply not taking appropriate — and legally required — precautions,” Stone, a Cumberland resident, said. “Some public officials also flout the laws, setting a bad example for everyone.”

Further, details regarding location of outbreaks are rarely available.

“We don’t have enough information from the ACHD to know where transmission is occurring in our area, to further guide the public,” Stone said.

The latest reported ACHD cases include a female under age 12, two females and a male in their teens, six women and three men in their 20s, two women and four men in their 30s, a woman in her 40s, five women and three men in their 50s, three women and a man in their 60s, a man in his 70s, a woman in her 80s and a woman in her 90s.

‘Prepared for a surge’

UPMC Western Maryland said it has adequate supplies of protection materials, including surgical and N95 masks, gowns and gloves.

“As we have been since the beginning of the pandemic, UPMC Western Maryland remains prepared for a surge that we hope never arrives,” Nancy Adams, senior vice president and chief operating officer said via email Tuesday. “As part of the 40-hospital UPMC health system, we have access to resources and assistance beyond the walls of our hospital. We are also ready for all the other health care needs of the community, notably emergency and medically necessary care. We will continue to serve our community and do so safely.”

‘Being spread through gatherings’

The Garrett County Health Department reported four additional COVID-19 cases Tuesday, which brings the county’s total positive test results to 107.

“The new positive COVID-19 cases are a male and a female in their 30s, and a male and a female in their 60s,” GCHD stated in a press release. “All of the individuals are being advised to isolate at home or to seek immediate medical attention based on their signs and symptoms.”

The county has 24 people in isolation due to a COVID-19 diagnosis, including one person that is hospitalized.

“Please continue to practice social distancing and wear face coverings to help slow the spread of COVID-19,” Dr. Jennifer Corder, deputy health officer in Garrett and Allegany counties, said via press release. “Contact tracing continues to reveal that the current surge in cases in Garrett County is primarily being spread through gatherings among families, friends, and worshipers.”

The best way to prevent the illness is to avoid being exposed to it, GCHD stated in the release.

“The virus is spread mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks. The virus is an aerosol and can land in the mouths or noses of people who are nearby, or possibly be inhaled into the lungs. COVID-19 may be spread by people who are not showing symptoms.”

To help slow spread of the disease, people should wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

“Especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing, sneezing, or using the restroom,” GCHD said. “If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.”

The health department also said people should avoid close contact with each other.

“If possible, maintain (6) feet between the person who is sick and other household members,” GCHD said. “It is safest to avoid crowded places and gatherings where it may be difficult to stay at least 6 feet away from others who are not from your household.”

And, people should wear a mask or face covering that covers mouth and nose.

“You could spread COVID-19 to others even if you do not feel sick,” GCHD said. “The mask is meant to protect other people in case you are infected.”

It’s likely the flu viruses and COVID-19 will spread this fall and winter.

“Health care systems could be overwhelmed treating both patients with flu and patients with COVID-19,” GCHD said. “This means getting a flu vaccine during 2020-2021 is more important than ever.”

While the flu vaccine will not protect against COVID-19, it has been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death.

“Getting a flu vaccine can also save health care resources for the care of patients with COVID-19,” GCHD said.

Counties ranked by testing

The Maryland Department of Health on Tuesday reported 590 new COVID-19 cases, with nine people that had died from the disease and 30 others hospitalized across the state in the past 24 hours.

According to MDH data at that time, across the state, Garrett County had tested the fewest number of people for the disease at 5,970.

Montgomery County tested the most people at 324,130.

Allegany ranked 14th on the list of 24 counties, with 22,652 people tested.

The available daily data between the counties and state can vary depending on reporting times.

Maryland’s COVID-19 vaccination proposal

Although there’s no vaccine for the disease, Friday was the deadline for states to submit a draft COVID-19 vaccination plan to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Maryland recently submitted its proposal, which prioritizes first responders, health care workers and nursing homes.

“In anticipation of a COVID-19 vaccine, Maryland stands ready to order, distribute, and administer it effectively and rapidly as soon as a vaccine becomes available,” Gov. Larry Hogan said via press release Tuesday.

“The State of Maryland’s plan for this historic undertaking will immediately make the vaccine available to Marylanders at highest risk of developing complications from COVID-19 as well as our critical frontline health care workers and essential workers in public safety and education,” he said.

“As we learn more, our plan will continue to evolve, but our focus will always be on the safety and efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccine to prevent the spread of the disease among Marylanders,” MDH Acting Deputy Secretary of Public Health Dr. Jinlene Chan said in the release.

“From provider recruitment and enrollment to vaccine storage and reminders about second doses, MDH has taken a very calculated approach to ensure the logistics, operations, and execution of this plan are thorough and efficient,” she said.

Phase 1 of the proposal will focus on priority groups to receive vaccination, including frontline first responders and health care workers that evaluate and care for COVID-19 patients, staff and residents of nursing homes, long-term care and assisted living facilities.

Phase 2 will have wide-scale vaccine availability for the general population.

“Additionally, vaccine supply is expected to rapidly increase once distribution begins, alleviating the need to limit vaccine administration,” the release states.

MDH is recruiting and enrolling health care providers, local health departments, employee occupational health providers and pharmacists “to ensure that there will be sufficient vaccinators to meet local needs,” the release states.

The MDH participates in the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, Vaccine Safety Datalink and Clinical Immunization Safety Assessment Project.

“Monitoring of the COVID-19 vaccination program will be critical to the program’s success, and several online dashboards are currently under development,” the release states. “The weekly flu vaccination dashboard and the COVID-19 vaccination response dashboard will use data related to flu and COVID-19 vaccination that are collected from various sources.”

MDH will also have Maryland-specific dashboards.

For most COVID-19 vaccines, two doses of vaccine will be required, separated by roughly three weeks, and second dose reminders will be provided to patients.

MDH will coordinate with “trusted community partners, priority group representatives, and representatives of vulnerable populations, along with a marketing vendor, to execute a public health campaign focused on the safety and efficacy of a vaccine,” the release states.

Pa. cat tests positive

A variety of news stories around the world featured COVID-19 on Tuesday.

The New York Times reported that researchers at Imperial College London early next year plan to infect healthy volunteers with the novel coronavirus “to study how people immunized with different vaccines respond to controlled exposure to the virus.”

Dr. Kevin Brightbill, Pennsylvania’s state veterinarian, said a 16-year-old cat tested positive for the disease.

The animal, which was humanely euthanized due to respiratory distress, lived in a Cumberland County household with multiple people that had been diagnosed with COVID-19.

The cat was the first in the state to be diagnosed with the disease.

“Covid-19 pandemic results in 285,000 more U.S. deaths than in a typical year, CDC finds,” was a Washington Post headline.

Reuters reported Australian officials were evacuating workers from a Kuwaiti-flagged livestock ship docked off the country’s west coast after roughly 50 crew members tested positive for COVID-19.

And, a Denver Post headline read “New cases of COVID-19 in Colorado reach record high as hospitalizations continue to climb.”

Teresa McMinn is the digital editor at Cumberland Times-News. Email her at tmcminn@times-news.com, call/text her at 304-639-2371 and follow her on Twitter.

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