More than 50 deaths in four weeks: COVID surge filling hospital beds, canceling events

More than 50 people have died from COVID-related causes in Washington County since Dec. 4 as transmission rates hit a record high, the county reported Thursday.

The county's positivity rate — the rate at which the total number of tests taken locally return positive — hit a new high of 31.92% on Wednesday. The previous high was 28.65% on New Year's Day.

Between Wednesday and Thursday, the county reported 481 new cases of COVID-19.

"This pandemic is not over and in fact we are experiencing record highs, in particular a positivity rate of 31.9% and a case rate of 207.8,'' Earl Stoner, county health officer, said in an email Thursday.

"Unfortunately I expect these to go even higher because (the) omicron (variant) is so much more transmissible. Washington County is currently experiencing our highest community transmission of the entire pandemic. This is resulting in our pandemic response and healthcare resources being extremely taxed as well as disruptions in many other sectors of our community," he said.

"The next 4-8 weeks are an especially critical period and individual actions are needed to make the difference between a continued increase in cases or a slowdown in spread. I am strongly urging everyone to get vaccinated or boosted and to wear a mask in all indoor public settings, regardless of your vaccination status. The burden this winter surge has on our community is directly in each of our hands, and we should not take this responsibility lightly."

The latest COVID surge has swept through the county, the state and the nation. Gov. Larry Hogan declared a temporary state of emergency on Tuesday, and events from local meetings to the Grammy Awards have been canceled, postponed or changed to a virtual format.

'Prevent the fire'

Maulik Joshi, president and CEO of Meritus Health, said most people ages 5 and older have access to a free vaccine.

"A way of looking at this surge is that COVID-19 is the fire and we have a way to prevent the fire in the widely accessible vaccine," he said in an email Thursday. "Otherwise, we just keep trying to throw water to stop the spread, which is a losing battle. We need to prevent the fire."

Joshi said health care workers are "exhausted," but "continue to show up for this community."

"Their dedication and willingness to keep going inspires me. As the challenges multiply, so does my appreciation for the teams working around the clock to support them."

Joshi also said that Meritus next week we will be offering Evusheld injections at its vaccination clinic in Robinwood Professional Center. Evusheld is a prevention method for people who couldn't receive the COVID-19 vaccine because of an allergy or other health interaction.

"This virus is tough, but I know our teams continue to find ways to be tougher and innovative in their approach to improving access to testing, vaccine and care," Joshi said. "We continue to offer the tools and information to arm our neighbors with everything possible to keep them well." 

This article first published in The Herald-Mail and online at in January 2022.