DENTON — As COVID-19 case numbers rise and the holidays approach, public health officials are warning people to stay vigilant and continue following recommended safety guidelines.

“Don’t gather with anyone outside your household for Thanksgiving” — that’s the message Caroline County wants to send to residents, said Sara Visintainer, chief of staff for the Caroline Commissioners.

We all love and cherish our holiday traditions, but this year it’s more important to stay safe, she said.

If people must gather with those from outside their own households, they are urged to get tested, Visintainer said, so the county is offering a special pre-Thanksgiving Caroline COVID-19 testing clinic from 2 to 4 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 22, in the parking lot at the Health and Public Services building.

“Starting this week, we went back to twice a week testing,” said Deputy Health Officer Laura Patrick, R.N. The health department screened 83 people Tuesday and had already filled all 40 appointment slots for Thursday by 9:30 a.m. By the time they were done Thursday, 70 people had been tested after they managed to work in all those who showed up without an appointment. Patrick said they try not to turn anyone away; the demand and need for testing is definitely there.

With Sunday’s testing, the hope is to get results back by Thanksgiving, said Anna Sierra, director of Caroline County Emergency Services. That way if a person’s test comes back positive and they were planning a gathering for Thanksgiving, they can change their plans and avoid further spreading the virus to family and friends.

Sierra stressed the test is “a snapshot in time.” It really only tells you if you are positive at the time of the test; a positive test depends on “viral load” — the amount of the virus in your system — and the virus has a 14-day incubation period, she said. In cases where someone believes they’ve been exposed, they should quarantine and wait at least 72 hours after contact before testing to avoid a false negative.

“It’s really important that people who can stay home do so,” Sierra said.

Both Patrick and Sierra urged people to be aware of the symptoms for COVID-19. Many of the symptoms are similar to those of a common cold or the flu: fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting and diarrhea. Symptoms unique to COVID-19 are loss of taste or smell.

“We want to emphasize to people, when they have the test, if they have symptoms, stay home until they get the results back,” Patrick said.

Sierra said people get comfortable and have a sort of trust with close friends and family members who do not live in the same household, so they tend not to wear a mask around them, which poses a risk.

Anyone can spread the virus; you need to wear a mask anytime you’re with someone outside your household, she said.

Also, people need to wear their mask properly — and that means cover both their mouth and nose, Patrick said.

“We can pick this up anywhere,” Sierra cautioned, all it takes is “one day of not washing hands, not wearing a mask.”

The EMS staff members wear their masks 24/7 unless eating or drinking or sleeping, she said, adding, “It is the No. 1 thing they can do” to prevent catching the virus.

Also remember to avoid touching your mouth and eyes; just avoid touching your face in general, Patrick said.

And if you have symptoms, get tested and stay home, Patrick said. “We encourage people to never come to work with any symptoms,” she said.

The county is anticipating a surge after the holiday, so they are adding more testing, Sierra said.

The health department in Denton already offers an easily accessible, central location for testing from 1 to 4 p.m. on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Starting the week after Thanksgiving, Caroline is partnering with Choptank Community Health to offer drive-thru testing at elementary schools in both the north and south county areas.

From Nov. 30 through Dec. 11, the additional testing hours and locations are 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at Greensboro Elementary, 4 to 6 p.m. Mondays at Federalsburg Elementary and 4 to 6 p.m. Wednesdays at Preston Elementary.

People do not have to be a Choptank Health patient to be tested at the school sites, Visintainer said.

Patrick said they don’t want to turn away anyone who wants to be tested.

While appointments are not required for Sunday’s testing, they are strongly encouraged. If you call ahead it helps to streamline the process so they can prepare, Patrick said. The number to call is 410-479-8000.

Testing is free. People are asked to bring a photo I.D.

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