Talbot meets state testing goal, sees spike in virus cases

Talbot County met Maryland’s goal of testing 10% of each jurisdiction’s populations for the coronavirus, but as such, has seen an increase in positive test results. Pictured is coronavirus test site operators at the Easton High School drive-through site.

EASTON — After weeks of playing catch-up with its coronavirus testing efforts, Talbot County has become Maryland’s eighth most-tested jurisdiction. The testing boost, coupled with eased restrictions, lent the county its largest number of positive tests in a seven-day span to date.

Talbot Health Officer Dr. Fredia Wadley said Monday, June 29, the county saw 21 confirmed cases in seven days since June 22. Wadley said the county had not previously experienced a week with that many cases, even during what data show was the virus’s peak in mid-May.

The health officer attributed the spike in cases to the “increased testing availability, but also due to our reopening and the decrease in social distancing and use of masks.”

She said her department has been able to link many of the new cases to “family reunions, trips to the beach, and other social gatherings,” all of which have increased as the weather gets warmer and health officials continue to ease restrictions across the state.

Prior to last week, Wadley said, Talbot’s new case numbers looked promising compared to surrounding counties and many other rural areas. But the county is now reporting 136 confirmed cases and four deaths, according to state data.

While Talbot now has the capacity to trace contacts, accommodate a surge in coronavirus patients and test anyone who wants to be tested for the virus, the health officer voiced concern that the county might have to use all of its resources if people “continue to pretend that the pandemic is over.”

Wadley urged anyone who “has been part of a large group event, visited a crowded beach or boardwalk, had a recent commercial air flight, participated in multiple smaller but varied social groups over the past two weeks — or has a household member that has done any of these” to get tested for the virus.

“It is not just where you have been but also where everyone within six feet of you over the past two weeks have been that increases your risk for the infection — especially if no one was wearing a facial covering,” she said.

Despite the county having seen its largest jump in positive results during the entirety of the pandemic last week, Talbot’s testing capacity increase signals the county has at least of one of the many necessary tools in place to guide a safe reopening.

Talbot County is among eight jurisdictions in the state that have reached the Maryland Department of Health’s goal of testing 10% of each jurisdiction’s populations.

A robust testing operation is among the key metrics to which infectious disease experts have pointed as being invaluable to the facilitation of a largely harmless reopening or resumption of regular activities at any level.

Gov. Larry Hogan, though he acknowledged the fight against the pandemic is “far from over,” took a moment to celebrate Talbot’s reaching the testing milestone that MDH established more than a week ago.

“I want to congratulate Talbot County leaders and health officials on becoming our eighth jurisdiction to test 10% of their population,” Hogan said in a press release Monday.

The governor added that it’s still “vital that Marylanders remain vigilant, wear face coverings, wash their hands, and practice physical distancing so that we can continue on our road to recovery.”

As far as virus testing efforts go statewide, Talbot County is trailing only Allegany, Somerset, Dorchester, Wicomico, Kent and Washington counties, and Baltimore city, for most-tested jurisdiction, according to state data.

Wadley said the county had “plenty of help” meeting the testing milestone, with universal testing at Talbot’s two assisted living facilities, Shore Regional Health testing patients ahead of elective procedures, and Choptank Community Health System being “a great partner for testing in the area.”

As of Friday, June 26, the health officer said, the test site at Easton High School, which opened on Monday, June 8, had administered 364 coronavirus tests to Talbot County residents in its nine days of operation.

The site has tested an average of roughly 40 residents per operating day, and about 120 per week, since it opened three weeks ago.

The EHS site is expected to be open for “some time,” Wadley has said, noting her desire to keep the site running as long as possible because of the county’s initial lag in testing capacity.

The health officer noted the turnaround time for test results is now three to five days — an increase from what initially was a 48-hour wait time in some cases.

Because of this increase, the health officer said people should schedule a test to be administered at least six days before the results are needed, if for example, an individual is getting tested in order to be able to return to work.

The Talbot County Health Department’s testing site at the Easton High School is open from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. on Monday, Wednesday and Thursday.

Tests are exclusive to Talbot residents by appointment only. The number to call for an appointment is 410-819-5632.

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