Meritus CEO stresses vaccinations; sees recent uptick in positive COVID tests

While the latest COVID case numbers are lower than they were in the winter, they still show reasons for concern, local and national officials said.

"About a month ago, we looked at our last 1,000 COVID tests, and only one (0.1%) was positive. That was a month ago," said Maulik Joshi, president and CEO of Meritus Health. "Now, this past five days, we've looked at … almost 800 COVID tests, and we're just over 2%.

"So, in the grand scheme of things, we're so much lower than we were a year or six months ago. But, in the other scheme, it's twice what we've been."

Getting a vaccine remains the best way to combat the disease. The vaccines have proven to be highly effective, Joshi said, even against new variants of the coronavirus, which causes COVID-19.

A small percentage of people who are fully vaccinated can still get COVID-19 if exposed to the virus, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

But vaccinated people who have breakthrough infections are much less likely to get severely sick or die.

In recent months, fewer people are being hospitalized in Washington County because of COVID-19, Joshi said.

On Thursday, Meritus Health posted on its Facebook page that the hospital was "COVID free," with no patients being treated for the illness that day. It was one of a few days recently when there have been no COVID patients being treated at Meritus.

Of the last 50 people admitted to Meritus to be treated for COVID, only one had been vaccinated, Joshi said.

"And the reality is, we have to continue to push vaccination. That's the No. 1. It's the same message," he said.

"But, if you think about it, you know, we're not an island. This isn't 'The Hunger Games'  where we have our own sectors. We are all in it together as a country, and so our vaccination rate impacts everyone else just as theirs impacts us."

Across the country, infections rose in all 50 states on Sunday for the fourth day in a row on a rolling seven-day average, a run not seen since the spring 2020 surge, USA TODAY reported.

The weekly rolling average for cases in the United States has nearly tripled in the past month. The pace of deaths is up 24.7% from its low point two weeks ago.

On Monday, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued recommendations for the 2021-22 school year that include having everyone older than age 2 to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status.

In Washington. D.C., a White House official and an aide to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., tested positive for COVID-19 after attending an event together, a White House official confirmed. 

Both people were fully vaccinated.

Meanwhile, cases have increased in Maryland, Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

On Monday, Herald-Mail Media reported that cases rose 71.4% in Maryland over the previous week, according to a USA TODAY Network analysis. The data were assembled Sunday.

Pennsylvania saw new cases rise 62.8%, and West Virginia saw new cases increase by 48.1% over the same time. Coronavirus cases in the United States increased 66% from the week before.

Washington County's reported cases decreased from 15 cases to 14. Berkeley County, W.Va., held steady with 36 new cases reported. Jefferson County, W.Va., saw its new cases go from eight to five week over week, a 37.5% drop. Fulton County, Pa., had two new cases reported this past week, compared to four the week before. 

Franklin County, Pa., reported 23 cases in the last week. A week earlier, it had reported 17 cases, representing an increase of more than 35%. Morgan County, W.Va., reported 11 cases, one more than a week before.

The data show Maryland reported 1,011 new cases as of Sunday, compared to 590 reported the week before.

Pennsylvania reported 2,022 new cases, up from 1,242 new cases the week before.

West Virginia reported 468 new cases, compared to 316 the week prior.