Howard County passes 10,000 coronavirus cases since beginning of pandemic

Jacob Calvin Meyer, The Baltimore Sun

Howard County reached an unwelcome milestone Friday in the coronavirus pandemic.

The Maryland Department of Health reported 111 new coronavirus cases in the county Thursday, pushing Howard County’s total over 10,000 since the beginning of the pandemic.

In total, 10,046 Howard County residents have tested positive for the coronavirus, which means about 3% of the county’s population so far has tested positive for the virus.

So far, 177 Howard countians have died from COVID-19.

“As we begin to celebrate the holidays, I strongly urge residents to adhere to health guidelines and stay safe ...,” Howard County Executive Calvin Ball said in a statement Friday. “To stay COVID safe this winter, please heed the advice of our public health officials and alter your holiday plans accordingly, especially avoiding traveling out of state and gathering indoors. … There is a light at the end of this crisis, but we must continue to diligently maintain our mitigation measures.”

The first confirmed case of COVID-19 in Howard County was identified March 15. Like most of the country, the spring months of the pandemic were worse than the summer and early fall months. Since the beginning of November, however, case numbers, positivity rates and hospitalizations have increased in Howard County, in the state and across the country.

It took 190 days for Howard County to reach 5,000 coronavirus cases, but with the recent surge, the county’s next 5,000 cases took only 89 days.

As of Friday, the county’s weekly rolling new-case rate is at 27.98 per 100,000 residents, while the county’s seven-day positivity rate — which measures the percent at which tests return positive over a week — is 5.69%.

The World Health Organization and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have determined thresholds of 5% weekly positivity and 15 cases per 100,000 as when transmission is low enough to loosen restrictions. Howard County has been over 5% in weekly positivity for 28 of the past 30 days and above 15 cases per 100,000 for 41 straight days.

While the county’s coronavirus numbers are concerning, they’re better than they were a week ago. Last week, the county saw a small post-Thanksgiving surge in cases, with eight of 10 days reporting more than 100 new cases between Dec. 3 and 12. The weekly new case-rate reached its peak for the pandemic at 37.9 per 100,000 on Dec. 9.

The county reached the 10,000-case milestone the same day that front-line health care workers at Howard County General Hospital, part of the Johns Hopkins Medicine system, received their first dose of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine.

The vaccine arrived in Howard County and many other jurisdictions across the state and country this week following the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s approval of Pfizer-BioNTech’s vaccine last week.

In total, about two dozen hospitals in Maryland are slated to receive about 50,700 doses of the first round of Pfizer’s vaccine. If Moderna’s vaccine is approved by the FDA this week, another 104,300 doses will be shipped next week.

“This is one of the great moments in medical and public health history,” said Dr. Gabor Kelen, director of Johns Hopkins Medicine’s Department of Emergency Medicine. “A catastrophic pandemic that has ripped through society everywhere in the world will be conquered soon by one of the greatest scientific feats ever. This is the first sense of real hope that we’ve enjoyed in nearly 10 months. People are crying with relief when they get their first shot — that may mean this long nightmare is about to be over.”