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January 15, 2022

Trone tele-meeting gives public a how-to kit in dealing with ongoing COVID-19 pandemic

Credit: Herald Mail-Media, Dave McMillion

What should I know about the omicron variant of the COVID-19 virus?

Where should I go for other medical problems if hospitals are full with virus patients?

Is there help if I can’t pay rent or make house payments due to the pandemic?

Those were among the questions posed by state and local residents Thursday night during a tele-meeting to help communities deal with the fallout of the continuing COVID-19 pandemic.

The meeting, hosted by U.S. Rep. David Trone, D-Md., was held from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. After registering, participants were able to ask their questions live to a panel of experts or have their questions read by a meeting organizer.

Trone said he wanted to have the meeting as communities grapple with rising cases of the omicron variant of the virus.

Among the questions:

What is the difference between the delta variant and the omicron variant ?

Washington County Health Officer Earl Stoner said the omicron variant is much more transmissible than the delta variant. 

But perhaps the silver lining in the situation is that omicron appears to be less severe, Stoner said. But there’s another issue. While available vaccines were effective against the delta variant, omicron is showing “more escape ability” with shots, Stoner said.

Stoner urged people not to let their guard down with the omicron variant because its high transmission rate means it could overload health care facilities if people are not vigilant.

With hospitals filled with COVID-19 patients, where should I go if I have another medical problem?

People should still go to a hospital emergency room if they have complications like shortness of breath, chest pain, seizures, stroke symptoms or loss of consciousness, said Bob Atlas, president and chief executive officer of the Maryland Hospital Association.

But urgent care centers are more suitable to treat medical problems like a fever, cold symptoms, vomiting, mild strains, small bone fractures, minor cuts or urinary problems, Atlas said.Get the Storm Watch newsletter in your inbox.

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What if I have trouble paying my mortgage, making needed house repairs or paying my real estate taxes due to the pandemic ?

Various forms of relief to address these problems are available thanks to a $248 million fund, said Brandon Smith with the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Grants and loans are available, and individuals can apply for both, Smith said.

More information is available by dialing 833-676-0119. Housing counselors are also available to help at 877-462-7555.

Rent assistance is also available through the state, officials said.

If my employer doesn’t have Plexiglass installed around my work station or make hand sanitizer available, can I report that to authorities ?

Maryland Occupational Safety and Health currently has no such requirements, said Matt Helminiak with the Maryland Department of Labor. But workers should check with the occupational safety board to see if there are other requirements that employers have to abide by in similar situations, Helminiak said.

The website for Maryland Occupational Safety & Health is

Is the monoclonal antibody treatment to fight COVID-19 available in Hagerstown? Should I take it?

The antibody treatment is available at Meritus Medical Center, Stoner said. But he encouraged individuals to consult with their primary care providers to determine if they should receive the treatment. 

Stoner said there are two types of the monoclonal antibody. One is intended for acute symptoms and the other is long-acting type designed to help people with underlying health conditions.

I’m a rental property owner and I’m wondering if I can help my tenants get rent relief. Is that possible?

Yes, according to Danielle Meister, senior policy officer in the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development. Property owners can apply for help on behalf of tenants, which is helpful if tenants do not have access to computers, Meister said. 

Maryland offers such assistance to tenants in affordable housing units. More information can be obtained by calling 877-546-5595.

I’m a small-business owner. Is there going to be financial assistance for businesses struggling with the impact of COVID-19 like in earlier phases of the pandemic?

Trone said there is “nothing in the queue” at this time. But Trone said it is vital that lawmakers address ongoing supply chain deficiencies that are crippling business owners as they also deal with COVID-19.

What’s the best mask to wear?

Stoner recommended individuals use N95, KN95 or KF94 masks. All three offer a filtration rate of about 95%, he said.

But Stoner warned people to be wary of counterfeit models of the masks, and said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has an approved list of masks. The agency’s website is

Stoner said cloth masks are not going to be very effective in the current COVID-19 surge.