Year in review: How we responded to Covid-19

Peninsula Regional Medical Center, in cooperation with the Wicomico County Health Department and the Delmarva Shorebirds, conducted several Covid-19 testing events in 2020.

Covid-19 dominated the news and the lives of Wicomico County residents for nine months of 2020, from shutting down schools and businesses, creating shortages of toilet paper and other goods, canceling sports and festivals and, for some, creating financial hardships.

But by year’s end, there were glimmers of hope on the horizon as shipments of vaccine arrived at TidalHealth Peninsula Regional, with the first doses going to frontline health care workers.

The first case in Wicomico County — a 30-year-old man who had traveled out of the country – was reported in late March. Soon the virus spread among poultry plant workers, nursing homes residents and staff and the general public. By the end of December, the number of cases in the county had climbed to more than 4,515 with 75 deaths.

Closings and cancellations

In March, Gov. Larry Hogan ordered that bars, restaurants, churches, movie theaters and gyms close to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but restaurants were allowed to continue to provide carryout, drive-through and delivery services. Some of those restrictions were later eased to help struggling businesses and allow in-person worship at churches, but theaters remain closed.

City and county officials also acted quickly in March by canceling the Salisbury Marathon, the National Folk Festival and all events scheduled at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center.

The Delmarva Shorebirds also were forced to cancel just as they were set to open their 25th anniversary season.

County officials also shut down the Government Office Building, requiring most city and county staff to work from home. The building was later reopened after protective measures were put in place, such as the installation of plexiglass barriers.

The governor also moved the Maryland Primary Election from April 28 to June 2, saying he had to consider public safety while also protecting the right to vote. The state later mailed absentee ballots to all registered voters for the primary and strongly encouraged mail-in voting for the Nov. 3 general election.

Health care

Since the start of the pandemic, TidalHealth Peninsula Regional and the Wicomico County Health Department have been at the forefront in the battle against the virus.

The Health Department started offering weekly Covid-19 testing early on, but recently expanded it with the help of the hospital. Free walk-in testing is currently being offered at the Wicomico Youth & Civic Center three days a week.

TidalHealth has maintained a separate coronavirus unit and recently became a regional referral site for the administration of a new type of Covid-19 treatment that drew attention when it was used to treat President Trump. 

Bamlanivimab, a monoclonal antibody produced by Eli Lilly & Co., was granted emergency use authorization by the Food & Drug Administration on Nov. 9. Only six hospitals in Maryland are in the first wave of facilities authorized to use the drug, and TidalHealth is the first site on the Eastern Shore.

The hospital in October re-established its triage and screening tent adjacent to the walk-in entrance of its Robert T. Adkins Emergency/Trauma Center. Patients are screened for flu and coronavirus symptoms, and then segregated to a designated location inside the Emergency/Trauma Center or outside within the triage tent, based on his or her assessment.

Education

The pandemic also closed Wicomico County Public Schools, and forced students and teachers to adapt to virtual learning instead. Schools later reopened in October for hybrid learning – combined virtual and in-person – but the Board of Education later approved the plan to temporarily roll back in-person hybrid learning through Dec. 18.

Superintendent Donna Hanlin announced in December that teachers in pre-kindergarten through eighth grade will be in classrooms starting Jan. 11, with their students having hybrid in-person learning starting the week of Jan. 19, if community health metrics allow. High school students, and middle school students of Choices and Mardela, will follow a full day virtual bell schedule starting Jan. 4, and are scheduled to begin in-person hybrid instruction the week of Feb. 2.

The health metrics are reviewed daily. Once instruction has resumed after winter break, on Jan. 4, the school system will announce whether it can go ahead with the plan.

Salisbury University also closed for in-person learning in March, but students returned to campus in August and it was the only University System of Maryland to continue in-person and hybrid classes following Thanksgiving break.

The milestone was made possible, in part, due to the University’s aggressive approach to battling the virus’ spread that included requiring all students, faculty and staff on campus to have a negative result from an SU-administered test on file every 30 days to maintain building access.

In September, the campus reported 333 positive Covid-19 cases – a 6.1 percent positivity rate — after testing 5,479 people between Sept. 5 and Sept. 11, according to the SU website.

The university amended its code of conduct related to Covid-19, to include social distancing, mask wearing and taking part in activities that jeopardize others on campus, and SU officials suspended 21 students for taking part in gatherings that involved alcohol and no mask wearing.

Help for businesses

Wicomico County businesses that struggled to stay afloat during the Covid-19 pandemic were eligible for financial help from a pot of $8 million in federal funds to the county.

The money from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security Act – or CARES Act – was offered as grants of up to $10,000 to cover operating expenses for three months, said Dave Ryan, executive director of Salisbury-Wicomico Economic Development.

SWED also distributed more CARES Act funds through its Restaurant Relief Supplemental Grant Fund. The fund targets eligible restaurants in Wicomico County that have been significantly and negatively impacted by restrictions on indoor dining, reduced hours of operation and other limitations due to the Covid-19 pandemic.   

Grant amounts ranged from $7,500 for restaurants without a Class B Restaurant Beer, Wine & Liquor license to $60,000 for restaurants with a Class B Restaurant Beer, Wine & Liquor license with more than 30 full-time employees.

The program targeted restaurants that have experienced a significant loss of revenue due in large part to restricted indoor dining capacity and reduced indoor operating hours.   

Help for renters

Wicomico County residents who fell behind on their rent payments because of loss of income during the Covid-19 pandemic became eligible for help from a $1.1 million federal grant to the county in July.

The money was split between three agencies in the county: the Wicomico County Local Management Board and Habitat for Humanity Wicomico County will each receive $500,000 and MAC Inc. will get $177,120.

In November, $300,000 from the federal Corona Relief Emergency Fund was divided among three nonprofit agencies to distribute: $200,000 to Salisbury Neighborhood Housing and $50,000 each to Habitat for Humanity of Wicomico County and the Wicomico County Local Management Board.

Under the grant, renters were eligible to receive up to nine months rent to pay for eight months in arrears, plus the current month. More than 200 people applied for help to Salisbury Neighborhood Housing alone.

The county also was awarded a $900,000 Maryland Eviction Prevention Partnership grant, but that money won’t become available until January.

Latest numbers

As of Monday, Dec. 28, Wicomico County has had 4,515 confirmed cases of Covid-19 with 75 deaths.

The patient count in Somerset is now 1,697 with 20 deaths.

Additional cases have also been confirmed in Worcester County, which now reports 2,071 people as having the virus and 45 deaths.

Dorchester County counts 1,323 cases with 19 deaths. There are 1,281 reported cases in Caroline County with 10 deaths.

Statewide in Maryland, 269,183 cases have been confirmed, with 5,573 deaths reported. The current hospitalization totals of people with the virus stands at 1,738.

Across Maryland, more than 2.5 million people have tested negative for the virus.

Nationally, there are now more than 19.2 million cases with 334,116 deaths as of Monday.


Helpful Coronavirus links

Maryland Department of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage

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