COVID-19 Cases on the Rise, Numbers Have Yet to Peak

The county currently is experiencing a surge in the number of COVID-19 cases, according to Montgomery County Health Officer Dr. Travis Gayles.

However, the number of cases has not yet peaked, he said during a wide-ranging virtual community briefing on the pandemic late Thursday afternoon.

The peak could come “as soon as this weekend, as late as early May,” he said.

For 90 minutes, Gayles, Executive Marc Elrich, Police Chief Marcus Jones, Montgomery County Public Schools Superintendent Jack Smith and Montgomery County Food Council Executive Director Heather Bruskin answered a wide range of residents’ questions submitted via social media, emails and telephone calls.

To date, Montgomery County has more than 2,000 cases of COVID-19. In Maryland, more than 10,700 people have tested positive, Gayles said. Statewide, about 23 percent were hospitalized, he said.

Gayles said he is “comfortable” there are enough hospital beds in the county and noted that the former Adventist Hospital in Takoma Park currently is receiving non-COVID-19 patients, thereby freeing up room in other hospitals.

Within a week, the county hopes to have an alternative source available for those without their own medical provider so that they can be linked to one who would determine whether a test is needed and provide the necessary permission.

Gayles cautioned those checking the Maryland Department of Health’s daily count to be calm.

If a person’s zip code area has many cases, it may be because that area has a larger population than another zip code area with fewer cases, he explained.

“I just want to put that into context.”

The county is working to find shelter for its homeless people, Elrich said. Those most at risk ones are being placed in hotels, he noted, adding, “If they are not in a hospital, they are in a hotel.”

According to Gayles, “There have been at least one or two” homeless people who have died.

Elrich credited Gov. Larry Hogan for “the fact that he is willing to lead,” and said that the county will be following the state’s decision, and not the federal government, on when to reopen schools and businesses and lessen restrictions.

“All of us want to be open,” he said, noting, “I am well aware the economy is suffering.”

Even when the number of cases are reduced, Gayles predicted that some of the restrictions will remain in place “for some indefinite period of time.”

Meanwhile, Smith said education is continuing, but in a new way.

“It’s not the same as regular school. It’s a very different environment we are in,” he said.

More than 55,000 Chromebooks have been distributed with another 5,000 to 6,000 to be given out next week. Meanwhile, district officials are reaching out to students who have not joined into their classwork to see what the problems are.

MCPS has distributed more than 629,000 meals so far, Smith said, noting, “If you need it, we want to provide it.”

The Montgomery County Food Council also is distributing food. Prior to the pandemic, there were about 60,000 residents who needed food.

Now, there is over five times the demand as compared to one month ago, Bruskin said. Many of the new recipients have never received county food before, she noted.

The county continues to purchase masks, gloves and other necessary equipment to make sure it has plenty for future use.

“I’d rather have too many masks. I’d rather have too many gloves and other equipment than two few,” Elrich said.

Also during the community briefing, Elrich noted that “almost a quarter of our hours are being teleworked,” which he called a good number since first responders, social workers and other county employees cannot work from home.

That reduces traffic problems and pollution and could, in the future, enable the county to spend less on office space, he said.

Chief Jones noted that crime “is down significantly overall.” However, he said there has been about a 15 percent increase in domestic violence cases.

Elrich suggested that people donate money or time to the numerous organizations throughout the county that have stepped up to help residents.

This is the season for fundraising, and many of the fundraisers have been cancelled, he noted, adding, “None of us go to the events for the chicken” but, rather to help the charity. “Anything you could do would be a great help.”

Elrich ended the 90 minute session by saying, “I want to remind people, as bad as this is, it will end.”

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Suzanne Pollak

About Suzanne Pollak

Suzanne is a freelance reporter with Montgomery Community Media. She has over 35 years professional experience writing for newspapers, magazines, non-profit newsletters and the web.

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