The Kent Pilot has reported that the primary sources of COVID-19 cases in Kent County have come from nursing home outbreaks and the agricultural community, but the health department here also reports community spread transmissions.
Between May 11 and May 18, the number of COVID-19 cases jumped from 120 to 140, and five of the new cases were community spread transmissions, said Kent Health Officer William Webb. Four cases were attributed to agriculture workers and nine were attributed to nursing homes.
The community-spread cases are documented on the heels of Gov. Larry Hogan’s decision last week to allow some retailers and non-essential businesses to reopen under Stage 1 of Maryland Strong Roadmap to Recovery, and some state lawmakers, along with some county leaders, have lamented that moving to Stage 1 of the recovery was premature. They questioned whether Hogan met his own guidelines to reopen the state’s economy.
“We’re really keeping an eye on how many people are going in the hospital, how many people are moving from the hospital to an acute or intensive care bed, and then how many people we’re losing to the disease,” Hogan said at his April 18 press conference outside the State House. “All three of those categories have to be in a downward direction for 14 straight days before you can even consider the reopening of anything.”
Dr. Wendy Cronin a retired local infectious disease epidemiologist in Chestertown said she initially supported Hogan’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, specifically a plan to begin reopening the state’s economy only after a 14-day downward trend in all three categories.
But Hogan did not meet his own criteria or that of the CDC and the White House in light of current COVID-19 data for Maryland, Cronin said.
“I’ve been very impressed by Gov. Hogan in his handling of this epidemic, until now,” she said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “Maryland has not met the requirements for reopening according to the [federal guidelines].”
“Those guidelines say that the number of new cases has to be going down for 14 days, which Maryland hasn’t quite met,” Cronin said. She said the number of new admissions to intensive care units in the state remains unchanged and has not gone down.
“Kent County is still going up and hasn’t seen the decline yet, so we don’t meet any guidelines for reopening,” she said. “If businesses proceed to reopen at this point they have to take extraordinary measures, which include properly worn masks, constant hand washing, six-foot social distancing and the availability of alcohol-based hand sanitizer for their customers and themselves.”
She said the best practice for employers would be to take employees’ temperature before each shift.
On Saturday, retailers in Chestertown’s historic district opened their doors to foot traffic and the Kent Pilot observed retailers practicing due diligence — in keeping with Hogan’s executive order. Facemasks were worn correctly, covering the nose and mouth, and shoppers were courteous and maintained social distancing of at least six feet.
But uptown at a local shopping center, a store manager was observed taking a smoke break on a bench with a colleague; both were unmasked and within inches of each other and both failed to use the hand wipes offered at the entrance to the store after their smoke break — and both proceeded to touch items for sale once in the store.
At a local convenience store, three workers were observed not wearing masks properly with their noses exposed.
“Continued violations of the guidance from Gov. Hogan’s executive order can ultimately lead to closing a business for unsafe practices,” Webb said. “Masking is imperative in preventing the wearer from transmitting the disease, it’s all part of personal responsibility.”