Buncombe County releases COVID-19 community update for Oct. 29

Press release from Buncombe County:

As of October 29, 2020, there have been 4,116 lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Buncombe County residents. Sadly, 103 people have passed away from a COVID-related death. Our seven day average for cases per day has increased to 43. Our local percent positivity has continued to increase and is now at 4.2%. While this is below the 5% that is desired by NC DHHS it is a significant increase from last month. The State of North Carolina as a whole is reporting that 6.8% of tests are returning positive for COVID-19. This increase in percent positivity indicates that we are likely experiencing increased viral transmission. Over the last four weeks, over 5,400 COVID-19 tests per week have been administered in Buncombe County.

Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County Public Health Director, states, “Our case investigations and tracing continues to indicate that individuals are not consistently keeping six feet distance between themselves and others. This is extremely disheartening as we know that keeping distance, wearing a face covering and washing our hands often do help reduce the spread COVID-19.”

Saunders continues, “In addition, we are finding through investigation that many new cases are associated with smaller gatherings, like those with family and friends. Please remember, COVID-19 is highly contagious. Every time you are interacting with others at businesses, places of worship, retail spots, and even gatherings in your neighborhood, it is an opportunity for exposure. Right now, the best protection is reducing contact with others outside of your household as much as possible and practicing the 3Ws. By doing these simple things, we can reduce the spread of COVID-19. Please do your best to remain safe for yourself and those around you by keeping up your social distancing habits. We need your help.”

Halloween will be different this year and understandably, this is hard for some families and children, however it is imperative that safety is the priority during a global pandemic. With traditional trick-or-treating where a child (or adult) goes door-to-door, there are multiple exposures to people who could be infected with COVID-19. Sometimes people don’t even know they have COVID-19 and, while they may seem healthy, they could be spreading the virus to others. We urge people to consider alternatives to traditional trick-or-treating such as placing pre-prepared bags of goodies outside for a scavenger hunt with immediate family or even a haunted trail. If there are high-risk individuals in the household, consider not answering the door to trick-or-treaters this year or leaving bags of treats outside the door on a table so children will not have to reach into a bucket or ring a doorbell. NCDHHS has released guidance for safer holidays that can be found here.

Pop-up testing will be at the Buncombe County Sports Park on Sunday, November 1st, from 1:30-5:30 PM. People can also pre-register for the November 1st testing site by completing the Self-Checker found at www.buncombeready.org or by calling the Ready Team at (828) 419-0095 from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm, Monday – Friday. Pop-up testing will also be offered on Thursday, November 4th at the Ingles on Highway 74, from 2-6 PM. If you have symptoms of COVID-19, are a close contact of someone with COVID-19 or think you may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19, visit www.buncombeready.org and click on the COVID-19 Self Checker link to register for testing. You also can complete the registration process by calling (828) 419-0095 from 8:30 am – 5:00 pm, Monday – Friday.  Remember, there is no out-of-pocket cost at any county COVID-19 testing site. If you have insurance, it will be billed to cover the cost of the test. Spanish medical interpreters are at each testing site location to assist as needed.  More information about COVID-19 testing in Buncombe County at www.buncombeready.org.

Media Questions:

Below is an excerpt from the most recent  NCDHHS Clusters report  – do any of these situations apply to Buncombe county?
Key Takeaways from this Report:
• Cases associated with clusters in religious gatherings have increased since mid-September.
• Cases associated with clusters in social gatherings (such as parties, family gatherings, weddings, funerals) increased in September, after few cases were reported in August.
• The number of cases associated with clusters in colleges, and universities have continued at a steady level since the beginning of September, after peaking in late August.
·    No cases associated with clusters in agriculture, food processing, or construction/contractor settings have been reported during the month of October.
·       Yes, the same trends seen at the state level are also seen at the local level, in general. See release for case investigation findings.

Same for contract tracing?
·       As cases increase, contact tracing typically increases, as well. Because individuals have not been adhering to 6 feet distance between themselves and others, we have seen an increase in the overall number of contacts associated with a case.

Is Buncombe County recommending any changes to the current Phase 3 restrictions to help slow the spread of COVID-19?
·       Not at this time, however, we are monitoring the data trends and will be presenting current trends and any recommendations to the Board of Commissioners on next Thursday at their pre-meeting.

Has Buncombe County received any antigen rapid tests? If so, how many? How will those be distributed? Are rapid tests available in Buncombe County and what is the average turnaround time to get results when a resident is tested for the virus?
·       BCHHS not received or deployed any antigen rapid tests. There is an ever-growing number of providers in Buncombe County who are using either rapid antigen or rapid PCR tests. You would need to check with other healthcare or testing providers regarding Ag testing opportunities. While BCHHS is not providing rapid tests, we are seeing a 24-48 hour turn-around time for test results through our community testing sites.

How many cases have been identified so far in school settings?
·       There has been one cluster identified in the school setting. We will defer to the public, private, and charter schools on questions about single cases in students and staff.

Have any new clusters been identified?
·       Cluster information regarding school, childcare settings, and LTCFs can be found on the NC DHHS website.
·       Clusters do occur in other types of organizations. The clusters identified so far in October have been related to religious gatherings and an institute of higher education.

With Halloween this weekend, what specific guidance is the county giving parents and trick-or-treaters? How about for voting on Election Day?
·       Practice the 3Ws on Election Day and every day! Wait 6’ apart, wear a face covering, and wash / sanitize your hands. We think that Election Services has done a great job preparing for this election during a global pandemic.
·       We addressed Halloween precautions in the release above. Here is a link to a news article that provides helpful information as well as a great risk-assessment infographic.

Overall, how do health officials feel about the number or trends of new cases in the county, especially with Halloween this weekend and Election Day next week? Optimistic? Concerned going into cold weather/flu season?
·       We are more concerned about Halloween because the activities people normally engage in at Halloween, like door-to-door trick or treating and parties with others outside the household, are higher risk for exposure to COVID-19.
·       Election Services has done a great job preparing for the election during the pandemic and we feel optimistic about their safety precautions.
·       We are concerned about heading into cold and flu season. We strongly encourage flu vaccination as soon as possible if you have not already been vaccinated.

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