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Garrett Regional Medical Center (GRMC) wishes everyone in its service area a happy, safe holiday and urges families throughout the region to consider the safety of loved ones and the need to limit the spread of COVID-19 as plans are made to celebrate both Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“Our first priority, always, is the health and safety of the community we serve,” notes Mark Boucot, President & CEO of Garrett County’s regional medical center. “The holidays this year are going to be very different because of the pandemic gripping our country. We’re urging families to limit gatherings to current household members. Seeing extended family members or friends should only be done using FaceTime, Zoom, or another web platform. This holiday we need to put safety first; we want to make sure that all of our loved ones are with us next Christmas.”

COVID numbers in Garrett County and the surrounding region have increased at a rapid pace this fall and winter. While the area looked as though it may have avoided the pandemic last spring, when it was hitting urban communities along the east and west coasts, COVID’s current spike has enveloped rural communities throughout the United States.

The increase in COVID cases in the Garrett County area is mostly the result of family and friends spending time together. The transfer of the virus among people who know each other makes it imperative to avoid holiday gatherings this year. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the best way to avoid getting the Coronavirus is to wear a mask if you have to go out, practice social distancing when you must be around others, wash your hands frequently, and avoid gatherings of any size.

“It is hard to think about the holidays without a big family get together, or visiting friends,” says Kendra Thayer, Chief Nursing Officer and Chief Operating Officer at GRMC. “But it’s important that we take care of each other and limit the spread of this virus. Our hospital staff is working diligently, around the clock, to care for the COVID patients in our community as well as our other patients. Everyone can help our staff by doing their part to limit the spread.”

COVID deaths in Garrett County increased from single digits last spring to 30 deaths as of December 17th. That total reflects 10 people who died between Friday, Dec. 11th, and Thursday, Dec. 17th. During that same period the county saw an increase of 52 new COVID diagnoses, raising the community’s total number of cases recorded since the pandemic began to 1,292. There is no sign that the spread of COVID will slow without action on the part of the community.

“The rapid pace of new diagnoses in our area is alarming, and we need to respond aggressively,” says Mr. Boucot. “We can contain the damage to our community if we work together to limit the spread and keep each other safe. So please, wear a mask, practice social distancing, wash your hands, and this holiday season limit your in-person celebrations to those in your immediate household. Looking out for each other’s safety this year is the best Christmas present we can give our loved ones.”