The monkeypox virus Credit: Getty Images

This story was updated at 5:50 p.m. July 25, 2022, to include more information from a county spokesperson. It was updated at 12:05 p.m. July 26, 2022, to correct who the vaccine is available for, and other services the county is providing.

Montgomery County health officials hope that the recent upward trend in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations will soon come to an end, though they now have a new illness to worry about: monkeypox. 

Monkeypox is a disease that can spread from human-to-human contact, according to Sean O’Donnell, public health emergency preparedness manager. There are currently more than 70 cases of monkeypox identified in Maryland, O’Donnell said during a news briefing Monday.

Symptoms of monkeypox include fever, headache, sore threat, and a rash, mostly on the face or feet or hands, according to the World Health Organization. WHO declared the disease a “global health emergency” over the weekend.

O’Donnell said county officials have just over 200 doses of vaccine to administer to residents who have been exposed to a monkeypox patient, or who are at the greatest risk of contracting monkeypox. He added that residents should know that the disease isn’t classified as a sexually transmitted disease — and that it can be spread other ways, such as through contact at a nightclub.

“It can occur if you go to a club, you’re rubbing against somebody … who has the symptoms,” he said. 

Health officials are working on increasing testing capacity for monkeypox, but it could be weeks before the vaccine supply increases, O’Donnell said. Currently, county health officials are screening potential patients and getting the vaccine to those who are at the highest risk, he added.

Mary Anderson, a spokeswoman for the county’s Department of Health and Human Services, wrote in a text message that clinics and times will vary, depending on the patient and the referral of whichever doctor they see. Anderson added that county health officials are working with private nonprofit partners, and their sexual health programs, to identify people who might be at the highest risk of contracting monkeypox.

If someone from the latter thinks they are at risk, they should call the Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) clinic at 240-777-1751, she wrote.

COVID-19 cases tick up, but hospitalizations holding the line

By one coronavirus metric, the county is designated as at the “high community level” status regarding transmission and hospitalizations.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention implemented the “low,” “medium,” and “high” metrics months ago, in part to make the higher levels more dependent on hospitalizations than spread of the virus itself.

As of Monday, the county’s COVID-19 dashboard showed that there were 12.6 COVID-19 hospital admissions per 100,000 residents over seven-day period. Since that number is above 10, that raises Montgomery County to the “high” community level status for COVID-19.

One month ago, there were about 219 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period, according to the dashboard. There were 243 cases per 100,000 as of July 23, the most recent data available. 

That metric has been trending downward since July 16, when it was at about 265 cases per 100,000 residents over a seven-day period. 

On June 25, 65.8% of hospital inpatient beds were occupied countywide. As of July 24, that metric was about 71%. 

O’Donnell said that people still need to be cautious, and if they are showing COVID-19 symptoms, they need to isolate from other people. Part of the difficulty with projecting whether the number of cases and hospitalizations will rise or fall is that there are many different variants of the coronavirus, he added. 

“The indications from other countries is that [the] BA.4 and BA.5 [strains] are highly infectious, lots of breakthrough cases — not necessarily a greater rate of severe illness, but a lot of infected people, which does end up in a greater number of hospitalizations,” O’Donnell said.

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

Steve Bohnel

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