A peak of coronavirus cases in Montgomery County could happen as early as this weekend, according to Dr. Travis Gayles, the county’s health officer. Or it could occur days later.
“There are some models that have suggested that we may see that as early as this weekend,” Gayles said during a media briefing on Wednesday. “We don’t know that for sure and we’re not counting on that to be the case.”
The peak is when the highest number of cases and/or deaths occur in a day. The county and state are continuing to work with the University of Maryland on predictive surge and peak modeling.
Gayles said predictive models can change daily. As an example, there were regularly around 500 to 600 new cases a day last week until April 7, when the count increased by 326 new cases in the state. But the day after, there were more than 1,100 new cases.
The state has said that spike in the case count that day was because the results of a backlog of tests from March were reported.
On March 5, three coronavirus cases were reported in Montgomery County — the first confirmed cases in the state. The increases grew larger over the next few weeks, and by the end of March, the state was adding hundreds of new cases per day.
As of Wednesday, 1,933 cases were confirmed in Montgomery County. In the past week, cases increased 78%.
“Even in our efforts to predict, we are hopeful that it is something that happens within the next couple weeks,” Gayles said.
On the possibility of a surge — an increase in cases and hospitalizations — Gayles said “some would say” the county is heading toward one because of the recent number of cases.
The number of people who have required hospitalization in Montgomery County is down to about 22% of the cases. Last week, the hospitalizations were around 27%.
“Those are the numbers we’re watching. We are preparing as if the surge is going to happen in the next couple of days for the rest of the month,” he said.
Gayles said he didn’t know “right offhand” what number of cases and deaths the predictive models indicated would happen at the peak.
“I don’t have it in front of me in terms of what those exact numbers are,” he said. “I want to be clear. The reason why I have been reticent to publish that is because they are models and they are sensitive to the dynamic nature of information.”
The county is focusing on finding trends that might indicate there will soon be improvement, he said.
Gayles said the county’s hospitals are taking a daily census to track their total capacity with the number and type of beds available.
“At the moment, I don’t think any of our hospitals, based on the daily census, are at capacity for general bed space. I know that a couple of them have seen an increase in ICU utilization,” he said, adding that none have been in “red zones,” or unable to take in new patients .
Triaging of the need and availability of equipment, such as ventilators, also happens daily.
Gayles said that because the county hasn’t had large-scale testing for the virus, officials can’t know the full extent of how it has spread. But based on the predictive models, social distancing and stay-at-home measures have had an impact on lowering the number of cases the county would have seen if they were not in place, he said.
He said he was not comfortable predicting when society could “reopen.”
County Executive Marc Elrich, who also sat in on the briefing on Wednesday, said his first priority is residents’ safety and health.
“I am not going to make a decision that is not backed by our health officials and backed by science,” he said. “The loss of life is far more consequential and far more an issue for everybody here.”
Forty of the more than 300 nursing homes, long-term care facilities and group homes in the county have reported cases of the virus among staff members and patients.
Elrich said the county would need to work with Washington and Northern Virginia to figure out how and when to reopen.
If the areas don’t work together, “we run the risk of bringing this back into our communities,” he said.
Elrich said large gatherings might not be a good idea until the county knows there aren’t any virus carriers and cases.
“If everybody had had masks when we knew the virus was going to hit — if that had of been the first thing that we had done, we would have limited the spread of it to some extent,” Elrich said.
At the Montgomery County Council’s meeting on Tuesday, Gayles told the council that it was not realistic to expect schools to reopen before the end of the academic year.
“Even if we are to see a decrease in numbers — I’ll be perfectly candid — we’re not going to relax those procedures and policies right away,” he said during Wednesday’s briefing. “It’s going to take time to make sure that we see consistent movement in that direction.”
Briana Adhikusuma can be reached at email@example.com.
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