Kent County Health Officer William Webb told the Commissioners Tuesday, March 31, that COVID-19 rates were higher in Kent than current statistics show–and that all efforts should be made to maintain social distancing and follow Gov. Hogan’s stay-at-home order of March 30, which prohibits non-essential travel.

Webb said the three positive cases in Kent so far “significantly under represent the severity of the situation in our county” and is indicative of the shortage of test kits.

“It is being transmitted at a rate significantly higher than the test results would suggest,” he said. He said the County is working with commercial suppliers and emergency sources to obtain more test kits.

He said COVID-19 in Kent is now considered “community spread” and that every citizen should operate as if everyone in the community is a  “potential carrier” of the virus.

Webb said 130 people in the five counties of the Mid-Shore have been tested and 23 have so far been tested in Kent. He said only 11 tests would have been possible in Kent without the help of the other four counties.

Commissioner Ron Fithian asked how long it took to obtain test results and Webb responded 2-13 days–depending on the priority of the situation.

The state has implemented a priority system based upon the “clinical situation.” Webb said those currently hospitalized are given greater priority.

In efforts to contain further spread of the virus, the county is employing “contact tracing” for those who’ve tested positive, which involves contacting individuals the infected person has come in contact with.

Fithian asked what the bed capacity would be at Chester River Hospital in the event of a surge and Webb responded that the hospital was currently licensed for 15 beds. He said the regulatory burdens to increase bed capacity have been suspended to help hospitals deal with an influx of patients, as long as there is space, staffing and equipment.

Shore Health Photo

Webb said University of Maryland Shore Regional Health was trying to increase the capacity in Chestertown to 26 beds. He said the hospital admitted 16 patients on Monday.

But the Hospital would not verify Webb’s statements.

“The numbers I give you today are irrelevant because that number could change and not be the same tomorrow,”  said Shore Health Communications and Marketing Director Trena Williamson in a brief call with the Kent Pilot on Tuesday.

The Kent Pilot also asked Shore Health for a current count of available ventilators at the Chester River Hospital and received no response by the time this story ran.

Fithian said that everyone is aware of the recent history of the hospital when shuttering inpatient beds and downsizing was of great concern to Kent residents.

“I’m sure this situation has changed that discussion and probably highlighted the importance that rural hospitals such as ours play,” he said. “There will be a much different discussion because of this outbreak than what was taking place prior.”

The hospital once operated 60-inpatient beds before Shore Health began downsizing over the last few years with plans to eventually centralize all its health care delivery at Memorial Hospital in Easton. The plan brought rebuke from Kent County residents and lawmakers, who successfully fought to halt the further decline of inpatient beds.