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Garrett County Covid-19 Timeline

Updated: Jan 12, 2021

Governor Larry Hogan issuing a "Stay At Home" order during press conference.

Garrett County was once able to boast the lowest number of COVID-19 infections and related deaths in Maryland. Throughout the summer months, the number of infections remained well below other counties in the state. In just three months, beginning in October, Garrett County's cases started to soar. The number of cases and deaths is now double that of Kent County which reports 767 cases, the lowest in Maryland. Talbot County reports 8 deaths, the fewest in the state.

Many residents would like to cast blame on a busy summer tourist season and outsiders for the rapid climb in coronavirus cases. However, the reported cases only began to escalate at a rapid pace by mid-October, nearly a month after schools resumed and vacationing families returned to their primary places of residence. So, before condemning the tourism industry that sustained local businesses and the hospitality workforce, a review of the case numbers could paint a more accurate picture of when the pandemic placed a firmer grip on Garrett County and where responsibility should be placed. According to the Garrett County Health Department's contact tracing, most transmissions of the virus during the surge through the final months of 2020, were attributed to family gatherings, churches, and bars.

Engage Mountain Maryland started tracking the virus in earnest shortly after it began while informing residents on how to mitigate their risk of becoming infected. Whether CDC guidelines were followed strictly or not, the county managed to keep new infections to a minimum and held the distinction as the lowest reported cases in Maryland for most of 2020. Governor Larry Hogan held frequent press conferences asking Marylanders to be vigilant and patient while he provided updates about climbing numbers of cases and the state's plans to avoid catastrophic outbreaks.

As of March 23, just 3 initial cases were confirmed in Garrett County and attributed to residents returning from a vacation in Colorado. It was evident the virus was not homegrown but infiltrating from outside the area.

On April 1, Governor Larry Hogan issued a "Stay At Home" order and closed all non-essential businesses to suppress the virus. During this initial response, coronavirus relief monies were being made available to businesses and individuals would eventually lose employment from closures. Public schools also turned to virtual learning across the state without a pre-established plan in place. School systems, teachers, and students had to adapt to new technologies quickly while many were without adequate access to wifi in Garrett County.

The first cases in March appeared to be contained. The virus typically is spread within the first 14 days an individual is infected. Most patients recover in about two weeks but the coronavirus is unpredictable with a wide array of symptoms from loss of smell and taste to debilitating respiratory complications that could require hospitalization. Anyone infected or exposed to a confirmed case was advised to quarantine for 14 days to prevent passing the virus to others. Isolation remains the most effective way to break the chain of spreading infections from one person to another.

By April 8, the county reported two additional positive test results bringing the total to 5 cases. Based on other areas, Garrett County was still looking like a safe place to live or escape to during the pandemic.

On May 6, Hogan eases outdoor activity restrictions, allowing people to enjoy public outdoor spaces and parks while still following CDC guidelines. At this point, indoor gatherings are still limited to 10 and non-essential businesses remained closed.

Garrett County added one more positive test result on May 18, bringing the total to 6 cases. The rest of the state was also seeing a leveling off of new cases which prompted Governor Hogan, on June 3 to announce phased-in plans to reopen. The Governor's "Roadmap To Recovery" relied on a 7-day positivity rate of less than 5 percent as a benchmark for opening businesses again.

The Garrett County Commissioners and the Health Department followed the governor's lead and also allowed vacation rental properties to reopen. With just 10 cases on June 7, the risks appeared low.

As the 4th of July weekend kicked in and Deep Creek Lake was seeing record visitors, just 14 cases were reported locally. Some additional cases appeared temporarily on the tally but were removed if the individual's primary residence was not in Garrett County. Because most activities were being held outdoors, the likelihood of transmitting the virus from person to person was less likely. If social gatherings were to impact the number of people infected, this would become evident in roughly 14 days (July 28) based on the usual incubation period of the coronavirus.

The following dates and corresponding cases fall between the 4th of July weekend and the 14-day incubation period.

July 8 – 16 cases
July 19 – 34 cases
July 23 – 38 cases
August 14 – 58 cases

Garrett County experienced a small but steady weekly increase following the 4th of July. Considering the robust summer season reported by local businesses, the transmission rate was not yet spinning out of control. Health Officer, Bob Stephens raised concerns that should the 7-day positivity rate climb above 15 percent, his department would not be able to manage contact tracing. It was inching closer by the day.