With new mitigations in this area and a continued rise of positive cases of the COVID-19 virus, health officials remind local residents of some of the protocols put in place to keep the community safe.
“I do not see us being back to a ‘normal’ state anytime soon,” said Montgomery County Health Department Administrator Hugh Satterlee. “We all want to get out and do more things, but we need to do it safely. I’m not saying you should only stay in your house, but when you go out wear a mask and try to stay away from people outside your household.”
With more than 20 positive cases just this week, Satterlee reminds residents the importance of quarantine after a positive test or being contact-traced by someone with a positive test to help slow the spread.
“If you get a positive test, you will more likely find out from a testing facility or a lab before you hear from the health department,” Satterlee said.
Doctors and health department officials agree that those who test positive should isolate themselves in their homes for ten days from either the first sign of symptoms or from the positive test date, whichever comes first.
“It’s important to stay home,” Satterlee said. “And to stay away from others. Do everything you can to stay away from your family. We are seeing more of a trend that entire families are testing positive than we were before.”
He added that someone from the health department also checks in on everyone with a positive test each day they are in isolation to see how they are feeling with a phone call, a text or an email. Satterlee said many employers require a letter releasing someone with a positive test to return to work, and they will provide that after ten days of isolation.
Some employers encourage re-testing before returning to work, but Satterlee said they are seeing cases where people test positive after the ten days.
“After ten days, you’re still good to go, even if you have another positive test,” Satterlee said. “You aren’t contagious anymore.”
Even if someone who has tested positive begins to feel ill again within 30 days from their positive test, they are not considered a new case or contagious. However, if they start to feel ill more than 90 days after their positive test, the health department could possibly consider them for quarantine again.
In addition to asking someone who tests positive to isolate for ten days, officials will also ask who has been in close contact with them over the last 48 hours. They define “close contact” as closer than six feet for more than 15 minutes in an eight hour period.
Those “close contacts” will be asked to quarantine for 14 days at home and should stay away from others.
“You should treat yourself as if you are a positive case and limit contact with others,” he said.
Although he didn’t necessarily recommend those considered “close contacts” be tested for the virus unless they felt sick themselves. He said typically if an exposed person were to contract the virus it happens in four to seven days after exposure. The 14-day quarantine allows the person to shed the virus if he or she contracts it from another. A negative COVID-19 test during that 14-day period does not exempt a person from quarantine.
Even after residents spend time in quarantine or isolation, Satterlee recommends that everyone wear masks in public.
“There’s always that chance,” he said. “The odds are against someone who isn’t contagious passing it to someone else, but we just don’t know. Masks aren’t perfect, but we do know they cut down on moisture droplets an individual puts out when speaking.”
Satterlee added he has never seen any scientific proof that wearing a mask increases carbon dioxide levels or decreases oxygen levels. He said the only people exempt from wearing masks should be those with breathing issues or those with true claustrophobia issues, and those people should avoid contact with people outside their home.
He also encouraged residents not to let other health issues slide because of the ongoing pandemic. Things like mammograms, immunizations and mental health should still be at the top of someone’s priority list.
“Don’t neglect your blood pressure, just because you’re scared of COVID,” he said.
As state mitigations increased in this area on Nov. 1, Satterlee had high praise for local school districts working hard to keep students and staff safe. He said the districts continue to work with the health department on all positive cases.
He added that bars and restaurants have additional mitigations because people can’t wear masks while eating or drinking, even if they wear a mask into an establishment.
“Eating out is typically a very social event,” Satterlee said. “Many times in a restaurant or bar, you are talking to people from outside your home. And you never know if someone you are sitting next to is a positive case and just doesn’t know it. That’s why we recommend the six feet of distance.”
Satterlee said that if local residents continue to wear masks and social distance, he thinks this round of mitigations with no indoor dining could be over in as little as two to four weeks.
And as the holidays approach, Satterlee reminds local residents to be mindful of gathering with those outside the home and try to social distance.
“Everyone likes to be around family,” Satterlee said. “It’s not about the food or the gifts. It’s about the family and the memories. But maybe this year, instead of giving grandma a hug, you can stand back and talk to her. I hate to tell people to be careful, but we do have people that are positive cases that are asymptomatic and that could be devastating to grandma.”
For family gatherings with those outside the immediate household, he suggested wearing masks when not eating or drinking.
“I know people don’t like it, but you can wear a mask in your own home,” he said. “I’m protecting you by wearing my mask. Wear yours and protect others.”