Parents confused by Montgomery County's COVID-19 reporting

Montgomery County health leaders responded to questions Wednesday hoping to clarify the county's COVID-19 reporting. 

Parents are once again voicing frustration since the health department has Montgomery County recorded as a "high transmission" area when the CDC still has the county as "moderate."

The questions increased online last week, especially after a City of Gaithersburg summer camp program emailed families to say that since Montgomery County was reporting "high" COVID transmission, the program would go back to masking indoors starting August 1st. The camp later rescinded those requirements. 

Councilmember Andrew Friedsono addressed the reporting discrepancy in a tweet last week: "Had an extensive convo with Dr. Bridgers on this today. My understanding is that the Adventist COVID patients from elsewhere are treated at MoCo sites which are counted in our #s but not CDC. Not as flawed or as perfect as some suggest. #s/trends should INFORM not DICTATE policy."

Sean O’Donnell, the Montgomery County Department of Health and Human Services public health emergency preparedness manager, told reporters on Wednesday: "We collect hospital data across Maryland. Every day our hospitals report those census across both COVID, non-COVID patients. It includes the alternate care sites that are in Montgomery County and Prince George’s County … Over time, the numbers are either approaching 50% of COVID patients or actually over 50% of our COVID patients may be in that alternate care site as hospitals move stable COVID patients to a location where they can be cohorted and there’s lower risk of COVID transmission to other patients. We think it’s very important that’s included in our census."

It was explained that the CDC’s reporting includes much wider-data across multiple jurisdictions. Montgomery County’s data does not include D.C. but does include alternative care sites.

"It’s also key we don’t count patients who are hospitalized in hospitals," said Dr. Earl Stoddard, Montgomery County’s asst. chief administrative officer. Montgomery County residents who are hospitalized in Prince George’s County, for example, we’re also not counting them. And so before you think that we’re artificially inflating our numbers, just realize we’re not – we count people who are hospitalized in Montgomery County hospitals."

When asked whether it’s responsible to report the county in high transmission without explaining this data, county leaders said DHHS tries to be as transparent as possible and does speak with early childhood providers to explain the data and why DHHS is making certain recommendations.

"It’s very important to consider not just the quantitative numbers but also qualitatively why we’re looking at them," O'Donnell said. 

Montgomery County encouraging indoor mask wearing as COVID-19 cases rise

The county's health emergency preparedness manager also pointed to a CDC disclaimer that states that more accurate and specific data would come from the state or county involved.

County leaders also said they are in communication with the CDC where they can better align themselves, but they still encourage masking and did so earlier in the summer when COVID cases were up but hospitalizations had decreased.

O’Donnell confirmed reporting of patents being treated in Montgomery County from other areas has always been included in the county data. 

On Monday, O'Donnell's department tweeted that a data error showed up on the county's COVID dashboard last week. FOX 5 has reached out to DHHS seeking clarification as this was not mentioned in Wednesday's virtual briefing.

Officials did, however, present statistics that showed last year the county was at 50 cases per 100,000 people compared to above 200 cases per 100,000 people currently.