Pittman Adds Contact Tracers To Slow Coronavirus, Help Unemployed

Jacob Baumgart

ANNE ARUNDEL COUNTY, MD —County Executive Steuart Pittman added more measures to fight the growing coronavirus concern. He said in a Wednesday press release that the Anne Arundel County Department of Health is hiring more contact tracers to slow the spread of the virus. The move comes as coronavirus metrics are on the rise in Anne Arundel County.

In addition to hiring more contact tracers, the new program seeks to conduct more testing, report results sooner and handle the increased call volume to the county's coronavirus help line. Operation COVID Health Corps, as Pittman calls it, asks each county agency to designate three workers to help the Department of Health for at least 16 hours per week for the foreseeable future. The initiative will also create immediate jobs for people who lost work during the pandemic, Pittman said.

"Operation COVID Health Corps creates multiple employment opportunities while supporting a critical need in Anne Arundel County," Kirkland Murray, president and CEO of Anne Arundel Workforce Development Corporation, said in the release. "Developing a workforce for this mission is a perfect opportunity for AAWDC to reconnect residents who have lost their jobs to immediate and meaningful employment opportunities."

Anne Arundel County's unemployment rate has spiked since coronavirus struck. In March, 2.9 percent of workers in Anne Arundel County workers were unemployed. That number peaked in April with 9.8 percent of the labor force claiming unemployment. By June, 7.4 percent of Anne Arundel County adults were out of work.

Aside from its economic goals, the new program also aims to lower the county's rising coronavirus metrics. County Health Officer Dr. Nilesh Kalyanaraman is particularly concerned with the growing number of cases in young people.

People aged 30 to 39 continue to have the most cases of any age group, and that statistic is on the rise. Over the last four weeks, residents aged 30 to 39 accounted for 23 percent of all coronavirus cases in the county. That is up 2 percent compared to the rest of the pandemic.

The same trend shows for 20 to 29 year olds, who composed 18 percent of the county's cases over the last month. Furthermore, 8 percent of the county's infections in the last four weeks came from youth aged 10 to 19. Both rates are up 2 percent from their overall clip.

The rise in cases among young people is a statewide issue, Gov. Larry Hogan said at a Wednesday press conference. The number-one activity reported by those who tested positive for the virus was "attending family gatherings," according to Hogan.

These were the top activities among coronavirus patients, he said:

  • 44 percent attended family gatherings
  • 23 percent went to house parties
  • 21 percent patronized outdoor events

"We cannot say with specificity how they got the virus or where they got the virus, but these are commonalities," Hogan said, "And they are significant."

Marylanders who tested positive for coronavirus reported participating in the following activities, Hogan said, citing contact tracing data:

  • 54 percent worked outside the home
  • 39 percent went shopping
  • 23 percent dined outdoors
  • 23 percent dined indoors

"Contact tracing is showing that teleworking is helping to keep Maryland open," Hogan said, encouraging people to continue working from home when possible.

As hospitalizations rise among people under 35, Hogan is not yet ready to move into Stage 3 of his reopening plan. The state entered Stage 2 on June 5.

Hogan aimed to further slow the spread of coronavirus by instating a quarantine order on Wednesday. Travelers from these states must self-isolate for 14 days when arriving in Maryland: Florida, Texas, Georgia, Louisiana, Arizona, Alabama, South Carolina, Nebraska and Idaho.

The governor also extended the state's mask order on Wednesday. Starting Friday at 5 p.m., Marylanders must wear a mask in all public places, both indoors and outdoors, when social distancing is not possible. Anne Arundel County imposed that same mask order on July 9.

Some county businesses have not followed the new coronavirus regulation, Pittman said. The county executive reacted last Friday, announcing a $500 fine for violators. Pittman's latest action also prohibits indoor service after 10 p.m. in bars and restaurants that serve alcohol. Additionally, Pittman capped indoor social gatherings at 25 and outdoor gatherings at 50.

Anne Arundel County counted 114 new coronavirus cases last Friday, data show. That was this highest single day total since June 15 when the county tallied a record-high 128 new cases.

Friday's new case count was the second most since the pandemic began. Anne Arundel county tallied 62 coronavirus cases on Tuesday.

New cases bottomed out at 10 on June 23. The county has confirmed 6,599 coronavirus infections and 206 related deaths.

Hospitalizations remain relatively low, but they are on the rise. As of Tuesday, coronavirus had 45 Anne Arundel County residents in the hospital.

Hospitalizations peaked at 172 on April 21. Fewer than 50 people have been hospitalized at a time since June 14. Hospitalizations reached a low of 25 on July 12.

While 45 hospital beds is a fraction of the county's health care occupancy, a slight flood of the system could be problematic, according to Kalyanaraman. When coronavirus first started to consume hospitals, they canceled routine or unnecessary treatments. Now that hospitals have reopened their doors for elective care, they have fewer vacancies than they did during the onslaught of the virus, he said.

Anne Arundel County has the fifth most confirmed coronavirus cases in the state, according to the latest report from the Maryland Department of Health.

Hogan's recent push has focused on testing at least 10 percent of every jurisdiction in the state. This will help identify the true scope of the virus, he says.

Anne Arundel County recently became the 17th of Maryland's 24 jurisdictions to pass the benchmark. The county has tested 12.6 percent of its population.

Now, the county's goal turns to testing 2 percent of its population every week. That totals about 11,000 weekly tests.

Kalyanaraman announced that goal on July 9. In the first week tracking that statistic, Anne Arundel County tested 1.5 percent of its population, conducting about 8,300 coronavirus tests.

The county understands that expanding testing will grow coronavirus totals. Kalyanaraman encourages residents to use the positivity rate as a gauge to determine whether the pandemic is worsening or whether testing is just identifying more patients.

Even with mass testing, a higher percentage of tests coming back positive indicates a growing problem. A lower positivity rate paired with high case totals shows that the spread is still growing, but at a more manageable rate.

Kalyanaraman said that a 5 percent positivity rate is a strong barometer for the county's control of the virus. If the county remains under that benchmark, things are heading in the right direction. The county's positivity rate, however, is threatening that threshold, Kalyanaraman said.

The county registered its highest positivity rate of 28.24 percent on April 16. The county's lowest rate of 3.25 percent came on July 12. Monday's 4.34 percent positivity was the highest since June 21 when the county saw 5.41 percent of coronavirus tests come back positive. Tuesday had a positivity rate of 4.32 percent.

"Our Health Department team is strong, but they need our help," Pittman said. "To continue our universal contact tracing and case management, our health equity outreach, our enhanced enforcement, and our ambitious work to test two percent of our population weekly, we must engage every county department and deploy residents who are currently out of work."

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This article originally appeared on the Anne Arundel Patch

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