Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

For the first time since Dec. 4, the Maryland Department of Health is again posting data about the number of new coronavirus cases statewide.

It remains unclear, however, how many new cases are currently being reported in Montgomery County or other jurisdictions. The state has removed any reference to a breakdown for each county, which had previously been posted on the state dashboard.

Andy Owen, a spokesman for the Maryland Department of Health, wrote in an email that “we are working methodically to restore our full level of reporting accurately. Per the note on our dashboard, we will resume reporting more surveillance information — including deaths and numbers by jurisdiction — as soon as possible.”

The state had reported hospitalizations and other coronavirus metrics, but not case counts, since early this month.

The state was hit by a cyberattack. The Department of Health has called it a “network security incident.”

Owen wrote in an email that “there continues to be no evidence that any data were compromised” and directed a Bethesda Beat reporter to a webpage with more information about the incident.

Part of the webpage reads: “On Dec. 4, 2021, MDH detected unauthorized activity involving multiple network infrastructure systems. Immediate countermeasures were implemented to contain the incident, and servers were taken offline to protect the network.

“The state’s chief information security officer stood up an incident command structure with a focus on protecting the MDH network, conducting a forensic investigation, and restoring core services.

“Because of the state’s aggressive cybersecurity strategy, and the use of MD THINK and other cloud-based services, many of the department’s core functions were not affected. There continues to be no evidence that any data was compromised. 

“In order to prevent additional damage and avoid compromising sensitive health information, we are being methodical and deliberate in restoring network systems while prioritizing health and human safety functions.

“We are actively engaged with both state and federal law enforcement partners as part of an ongoing criminal investigation.”

During a news briefing Monday, James Bridgers, Montgomery County’s acting health officer, told reporters that the county has contracted with some labs to determine the overall positivity rate and daily case rate, but it’s an incomplete picture covering only about 15% to 20% of all data in those categories. 

Bridgers added that the problem has not been in the collection of data, but rather the output and sharing it with local jurisdictions.

“They continue to collect the data when it’s the output of the information and data sharing that’s been a challenge, as they implement [a] safeguard,” Bridgers said. 

The state dashboard is important because some of the testing done countywide — especially by private providers and other entities — is sent to state labs to determine whether tests are positive or negative.

The county does some of its own testing and reports it to the state, but to get the complete picture from all of the individual data sources, the state has been collecting it and including it on its COVID-19 dashboard.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard said in an interview the county still does not know the testing results of hospitals, laboratories not affiliated with the county and other sources that report directly to the state.

Monday’s update to the state dashboard did seem to indicate there has been a rise in community spread since Dec. 4. On that date, the state’s seven-day positivity rate was roughly 5.5%. On Monday, that had risen to about 10.3%.

Stoddard said that even with the limited data, an increase in the positivity rate, even alongside a rising testing volume, indicates there is likely more transmission of the virus.

Around Dec. 3, the county’s positivity rate was between 3% and 4%, he said. Last week, the positivity rate was over 9%.

“That’s a reflection that we’re definitely seeing a rapid increase as far as cases go, that’s for sure,” Stoddard said.

Bridgers said there are ways to assess the rising level of community spread in Montgomery County, but there are still some holes. For instance, if the county reported a 2% positivity rate on Monday and then a 7% positivity rate on Friday, that indicates rising community spread, Bridgers said. 

“We don’t know whether or not it’s still the delta … variant strain or if it’s the omicron variant strain, so we’re working collaboratively with our labs to make more sequencing for the omicron strain,” Bridgers told reporters. 

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com

Steve Bohnel

Steve Bohnel can be reached at steve.bohnel@bethesdamagazine.com