Credit: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich made another plea on Wednesday for why hesitant people should get vaccinated.

Elrich referenced a slide showing the number of coronavirus deaths in the county, versus the number of deaths in the state. 

In October, the county had 31 COVID-19 deaths, 6.9% of the state total of 452.

In November, the county had 18 of the state’s 309 state deaths (5.8%). Last month, the county had 29 of Maryland’s 549 COVID-19 deaths (5.3%).

Montgomery County has about 17.2% of the state’s population, according to U.S. Census data from 2020.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s COVID-19 data tracker, 83.5% of the county’s total population was fully vaccinated, as of Thursday afternoon.

Elrich, who is recovering from the coronavirus, said the vaccinations and booster shot have kept his case less serious. He urged those who haven’t gotten the vaccine yet to look at the data on deaths. 

“Think about Montgomery County’s numbers. Think about the numbers in most of the rest of the state. It actually matters whether you’re vaccinated or not. So please pay attention to this,” Elrich told reporters during a weekly briefing on Wednesday.

A look at other data

According to the state’s coronavirus dashboard, case counts have significantly increased since the onset of the omicron variant in Montgomery County.

County statistics were unavailable from the state Dec. 5 through 27 because of a cybersecurity breach.

When the figures were again posted on Dec. 28, they showed that Montgomery County was seeing an average of about 482 cases over that 24-day period when numbers had been unavailable.

In contrast, during the previous 24 days, the daily average was about 115 cases.

Daily case counts have significantly increased since the return of daily data from the state, climbing to record highs since the start of the pandemic. There have been jumps and dips in the past week.

The highest single-day case count of the pandemic was 4,921 cases on Jan. 3. The daily count dropped to 3,133 cases on Jan. 4 and 1,484 cases on Jan. 5. That number jumped back up to 3,101 cases on Jan. 6.

The county is currently in a “high transmission” level of the coronavirus, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC defines that as 100 or more coronavirus cases per 100,000 people, over a seven-day period.

As of Thursday, Montgomery County was at 1,750 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, per the county’s dashboard.

That measurement has recently been at its highest level since the pandemic’s start. On Dec. 1, that metric was at 76.43 cases per 100,000 people over a seven-day period, defined as “substantial transmission” — one level lower than high transmission, per the CDC.

However, county health officials have stressed that hospitalizations should be more of a focus than case counts at this point in the pandemic, and have credited the county’s high vaccination rate for keeping those lower than in other parts of the country.

According to the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, there is “low utilization” of both total hospital in-patient beds in use countywide, and intensive care beds in use. As of Thursday, 75.4% of in-patient beds are being used and 75.1% of ICU beds are in use. 

Both metrics have both stayed within about a 5 percentage point range since the beginning of December, before omicron started to spread in the community. But during most of that period, they have remained in the “low utilization” category. 

One metric that has increased significantly in the past month is the percentage of hospital beds occupied with someone who has COVID-19. As of Thursday, that was 32.6%, the highest it has been since May 2020. On Dec. 1, 2021, that metric stood at 5.4%.

Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Earl Stoddard and other officials have said it’s important to note that some coronavirus cases might be “incidental cases.” That refers to people coming to the hospital emergency room for another reason — a car crash or other health emergency, for example — who then test positive for COVID-19. 

Stoddard said in an interview last month that a better metric of coronavirus’ severity in the community could be the percentage of emergency medical service transports to hospitals for patients with a “COVID-like illness.” That data point is not on the county’s dashboard.

Through Thursday, there have been 121,074 coronavirus cases countywide throughout the pandemic and 1,725 COVID-19 deaths.

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

Steve Bohnel

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