The state has increased testing to about 16,800 per day, on average, for the past week and now has more than 500 testing locations across the state along with several pop-up community testing sites. Based on guidance from the Department of Health and Human Services, the North Carolina Department of Public Safety has begun the testing of all 31,200 inmates in the prison system for the virus.
In the last week, the state has announced it received $1.5 million to expand mental health supports throughout the state during this crisis and also is allocating $35 million to assist local health departments respond to the pandemic.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. has more than 2.2 million confirmed cases with 119,923 deaths.
Over the last couple of weeks, Macon County experienced a major surge in confirmed cases due to several clusters being identified and a ramp up in contact tracing testing. With a total of 3,180 tests performed in the county and 224 tests pending, there are 257 confirmed cases in Macon. Of those cases, 191 are active, 65 are recovered and there’s been one death.
Macon County Public Health has also been releasing more demographic information regarding positive cases. As of June 17, women made up 54 percent of cases and the Hispanic/LatinX population represented 80 percent of cases. Looking at age groups, 44 percent of cases occurred in the 25-49 range while only 13 percent of cases occurred in people 50 and older. According to the data, 51 percent of positive cases were symptomatic, and 49 percent were considered asymptomatic.
The state defines clusters of COVID-19 in workplace, educational and other community settings as a minimum of five cases with illness onsets or initial positive results within a 14-day period and plausible linkage between cases where cases were present in the same setting during the same time-period.
The first two clusters were identified a couple of weeks ago at Old Edwards Inn in Highlands and at Evangelical Ebenezer Church in Franklin. Some of the people who tested positive at the church were also employees at the inn. The latest cluster was identified at Wind River Construction where six people tested positive for the virus.
Haywood County is now up to 72 cases as of June 22. The latest confirmed case did have a recent out-of-state travel history and is in isolation at home. Two cases were confirmed June 18 — one had recent out-of-state travel history to a vacation area while the other didn’t know how or where they were exposed. Case No. 68 was exposed at work and case No. 67 was exposed by another known positive case — all of the cases show that the virus is being spread in many ways throughout the community.
“The Haywood County Health Department will trace, test, and contain anyone we identify who was exposed to this virus,” said Haywood County Health Director Patrick Johnson. “It’s vital that citizens assume the virus is circulating in the county and take appropriate precautions. You or the person near you in the grocery store or at work could be unknowingly carrying the virus and spreading it throughout the community. Basic steps like social distancing, wearing a mask when in public, staying home if you are sick, and regular hand washing help to limit exposures and slow the spread. It’s very important to practice all of these precautions in the workplace as well.”
Jackson County has performed a total of 3,870 tests with 77 positive cases — 35 are still considered active and there’s been one death. About 78 percent of the people who’ve tested positive are white; 64 percent are male and a majority are in the 25-49 age bracket.
Swain County has 47 confirmed cases and zero deaths. The county has performed a total of 1,639 tests with 123 still pending result.
Dr. Mark Jaben, medical director for Haywood County Public Health, recently explained how people can reduce their risk of getting sick whether they are expose to the virus or not. He said there are varying levels of “virus load” one can be exposed to — just because you come into contact with the virus doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll contract it and even if you contract a small amount of virus load, you may not get sick.
“Being exposed doesn’t mean infection — the virus must get inside you,” he said. “And even then, you may not necessarily get sick. If the virus load is small enough, your immune system can handle it.”
However, if you’re exposed to a large viral load, your immune system can go into overdrive trying to attack the virus, and in the process your immune system can start attacking other healthy cells as well.
Jaben said there are several ways to block transmission of the virus anywhere along its path, which is why it’s important to wash your hands thoroughly for 30 seconds, to avoid finger to mouth contraction and why it’s important to avoid crowds in confined spaces for extended periods of time. He said wearing a mask will limit the chances of breathing in infected droplets from others. Staying 6 feet apart has been the standard, but Jaben said people talking loudly or singing can spread droplets 10-20 feet out.
“Break chain of transmission – isolate if you get sick and if that’s not possible because of the way your house is set up, call the health department. We have resources to help,” he said.
For more information about COVID-19 cases in North Carolina, visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov.