COVID-19 cases increase here, reflecting national trend
by DARANEE BALACHANDAR
Prince George’s County recorded close to 2,000 COVID-19 cases from mid August to mid September, the highest number of cases reported in a given month since January 2023, according to the Maryland Department of Health.
According to Stephen B. Thomas, Ph.D, the director of the Maryland Center for Health Equity at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, systems that monitor COVID-19 case rates by zip code are no longer in use, so a specific count for the city is not available.
“We’re all flying blind,” Thomas told the College Park Here & Now in an interview. “The best data on what’s happening is who do you know is infected and is willing to tell you.”
College Park Medical Center, a private healthcare clinic in the city, saw a rise in the number of positive patients during September, according to Ward Rodgers, the center’s manager.
“So for August, we saw 35 to 40 positives. In the first half of September, we’ve already seen 100 or so cases … and that rate is accelerating,” Rodgers said.
He said some patients who come in with symptoms suggesting COVID-19 may actually have the flu, COVID-19, or both. Rodgers noted that the clinic can simultaneously test for COVID-19, flu and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV). He also said that patients seeking treatment at the center may test negative for COVID-19 with the rapid antigen test but have a positive PCR test. The medical center is seeing this testing pattern more frequently with the new variant, BA.2.26 (also known as Pirola) than they did with prior variants, Rodgers said.
Thomas said although cases are rising, COVID-19 is no longer a national emergency. He noted that while conditions and case loads may worsen, public sentiment has largely moved forward.
“But will we ever go back to mandatory masking or mandatory vaccines, shut downs, [it’s] highly unlikely. The political will is not there. And luckily we have vaccines that can protect us,” he said.
The latest COVID-19 vaccine was released nationwide in mid-September.
The University of Maryland Health Center reported that the positivity rate on campus correlates to the rate recorded by Prince George’s County. Numbers remain lower than they were a year ago.
“Given how much the COVID-19 virus has changed over the past three years, we cannot predict how cases will fluctuate during the fall and winter seasons. As always, we monitor the health of our community and will issue additional guidance if necessary,” the University Health Center said in a written statement. The health center said students who test positive are asked to either return to their permanent home or isolate themselves off campus.
“Our isolation measures align with CDC guidance and aim to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission within the campus and local community,” the center wrote. “Students who test positive and live within driving distance of campus should coordinate with family to arrange for a ride home and avoid public transportation. The Dean of Students Office is here to support students who do not live within driving distance, and who may face significant difficulties leaving campus to isolate.”