By Greg Ellison
(Sept. 10, 2020) The Ocean Pines Association, which announced last week another employee had tested positive for coronavirus, was contacted by the Worcester Health Department regarding health safety guidelines during board meetings.
OPA Board member Steve Tuttle said a resident emailed her concerns about masks after witnessing several members remove face coverings during a director’s meeting in mid-August.
“In her email, she made reference to the fact that even though we were socially distancing we were not wearing our masks,” he said. “She was concerned about that.”
OPA President Larry Perrone said in addition to the resident’s email, the Worcester County Health Department also received an anonymous complaint.
“We received a letter from the county health department last week advising us even though we’re socially distancing during the meeting, if we’re indoors we have to wear masks,” he said.
Perrone said despite trying to adopt appropriate health safety measures, the board was not in full compliance.
“We all had our masks on and then when we sat down at our chairs some of us removed our masks,” he said. “Going forward we will correct our behavior.”
Tuttle, who wore a face shield during the board meeting last month, has since learned even that measure was not sufficient.
“The requirement in Maryland per the governor is even inside buildings,” he said. “Even with social distancing, it is my understanding now that we are to wear our masks.”
Coinciding with the health department guidance for covid prevention, the OPA announced last Thursday that another employee had tested positive.
General Manager John Viola said an aquatics department member who contracted the virus would not return to work until deemed safe in accordance with CDC guidelines.
“We notified the local health department of the situation and will cooperate fully with public health officials,” Viola said.
Viola went on to say the employee was not in close contact with residents or visitors and had only minimal interactions with staff.
“We do not believe this employee had contact with the employee testing positive for COVID-19 earlier this month,” he said.
The latest case raises the number of OPA employees testing positive for coronavirus to four, including another aquatics staff member and one occurrence each among public works and golf maintenance crews.
Tuttle said Viola has seen that appropriate steps, including contract tracing, are followed in each instance of an OPA employee testing positive.
“That’s really an operational thing from my perspective,” he said. “That’s not something the board should get involved in.”
Last week, the health department announced the positivity rate in Worcester County was nearly three times the state average.
In a related press release, the health department attributed the higher percentage of tests finding infections to the summer season population spike, noting that more people mean more potential cases.
“We know that positivity rates tend to ebb and flow from week-to-week,” the statement read. “One of our primary focuses is to make sure that our hospital infrastructure and ICU capacity isn’t overtaxed.”
To this point, county officials feel confident health facilities are prepared to handle the increased rate of infection.
“Our contact tracing and isolation/quarantine teams work around the clock to track the spread of covid-19 … and to support individuals who are either in quarantine or isolation to limit that spread,” the statement said.
For now, county health officials report hospitals remain below capacity.
“We we are releasing residents from isolation and quarantine daily. In fact, we have released 1,691 people from monitoring as of this morning, and we have a recovery rate of 97 percent,” the statement said.
Tuttle said the pandemic shows few signs of subsiding anytime soon and regardless of personal sentiments, community members should maintain vigilance and adhere to state and federal safety guidelines.
“You can get into the politics of ‘do we wear masks or don’t we wear masks” and that’s not really the issue,” he said. “The issue is the governor and the CDC guidelines say we should wear masks.