CUMBERLAND — After Dorchester County announced its first COVID-19 case Tuesday morning, Allegany County remained the last of the state's jurisdictions without a confirmed test result for the deadly disease.
But that doesn’t mean the virus isn’t already spreading throughout the local community.
As of Tuesday, 18 Marylanders had died from COVID-19, and the state had 1,660 confirmed positive and 14,868 negative test results for the disease.
In Allegany County as of Monday, 321 residents had been tested for COVID-19 with 228 showing negative and 93 pending results.
“Allegany remains with no confirmed cases,” Allegany County Emergency Services Director James Pyles said via news release on Tuesday. “We will have another update from the county health department tomorrow, or sooner if the situation requires immediate attention.”
COVID-19 is “almost certainly” already in Allegany County, she said.
“Many people either don't have symptoms or have only mild symptoms that wouldn't have caused them to seek medical care, or their symptoms were mild and so they weren't tested,” she said via email. “Until we have widespread, accurate testing, we won't have any real idea about the number of cases.”
It's important to stress that a negative test result “does not mean you don't have COVID-19,” she said. “If you have symptoms, assume you have it. The test is not that accurate.”
That might explain, in part, why Allegany County hasn't reported any cases of the virus.
“(COVID-19) either hasn't caught up or we are not looking hard enough, since testing supplies are limited,” Stone said.
It’s critical to stay at home and practice careful social distancing, she said.
“I am very concerned that people will not take this seriously and we will have a sudden burst of cases that will overwhelm our small health system and resources,” she said.
“The longer we can delay having a lot of cases, the safer we will be,” Stone said. “That gives us time to develop better tests, identify any treatments that might work, and get adequate protective gear.”
The Cumberland Times-News asked UPMC Western Maryland and Allegany County Health Department officials if they are concerned that the lack of local cases will cause people to drop their guard against fighting the disease.
In response, the hospital system declined comment and referred the question to the health department, which provided a general, albeit indirect, statement.
“The vast majority of Allegany County residents are taking precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” ACHD Health Officer Jenelle Mayer said via email. “We appreciate every person who is staying home, practicing social distancing, and washing their hands. These actions will make a difference in the health of our community."
ACHD also said residents should follow directions from public health officials, and comply with Gov. Larry Hogan's stay-at-home order issued Monday.
According to The Washington Post on Tuesday, Hogan called President Donald Trump’s claim that testing is no longer a problem “just not true” and said states are “flying blind” without enough data to identify the true scope of the epidemic.
“Testing supplies are still limited statewide and around the country,” ACHD stated Tuesday morning via its Facebook page and noted the absence of a lab-confirmed positive case in the county “does not mean that this disease is not present in our communities.”