AAC: Virus peak in late May, PPE shortfall, Testing improves

Anne Arundel County Public Health Officer, Nilesh Kalyanaraman, M.D, said before a tele-conference legislative session of the county council Monday April 20, that the county’s peak for COVID-19 hospitalizations may not come until late May. “So the projections we see, we expect the surge to continue into May,” he said. “We're seeing the highest point some time in May, likely the latter part of May, but these are projections and they're subject to change.” He also said that currently the county had a serious shortfall of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). “I also just wanted to give you a sense of how many PPE we've distributed,” Dr. Kalyanaraman told the council. “Over 58,000 N95 masks, 33,000 surgical masks, 4,000, face shields, 32,000 gloves and 2,000 gowns, but this is nowhere near sufficient. These are the kind of amounts that can get gobbled up within a matter of days across our system.” Later in the session, Councilwoman Amanda Fiedler representing District 5 gave an example of the lack of PPE that was impacting her constituents and even county employees. “I've had a few constituents who are also county employees but also out in the field still, who are taking their own masks and don't have ones provided yet from the department(s)” she said. “Social services, our EMTs and police, Rec and Parks, Aging, IMP, CPW for waste management. And then I went over a list of hospitals pediatricians offices, addiction centers all over the county that are asking of the health department for PPE’s.” While PPEs supply remain a critical challenge, testing for COVID-19 is improving, both in Maryland and in Anne Arundel County. Gov. Hogan announced Monday April 20, that the state was procuring 500,000 test kits from South Korea. Kalyanaraman was buoyed by the state’s procurement from South Korea. “Certainly the number of tests that were purchased today will help tremendously in getting us prepared,” he said. “We see the test availability is improving. Test turnaround time is decreasing.” To increase testing for county residents who were receiving unequal access to testing, the health department has started to institute walk-up testing sites. The first one occurred April 20. The event was expected to draw 30 to 40 people. Instead 134 residents came to be tested in the four hours it was open, Kalyanaraman reported. Right now his office is meeting the demand for contact tracing in the county. Contact tracing is the process of tracing and monitoring those who have been in contact with infected people. The health department has developed capacity to do contact tracing for 100 cases per day, the health officer said.. In months before the pandemic this service was done about 20 times a month. “So far we hit about 75 cases in our highest day,” Kalyanaraman said. “If we are not the only County, certainly we are one of two or three counties that have contact traced every single individual who has been positive.” He said that the county is looking to strike a balance regarding how the large-scale social distancing that is taking place could start to be relaxed. Three things were required before that should happen, he believed. They included two-week declines for both the number of new infections of COVID-19 in the county, and the number of people being hospitalized locally for the virus. Another requirement was “aggressive” testing, which he described as testing for the disease as soon as a resident started started to show symptoms. “That's how we're gonna get control of that,” he said. “Because if they're sealed up cases and you can isolate quarantine them, you can suppress the spread.”