Elevated COVID-19 rates move Buncombe to Medium community level

Press release from Buncombe County:

In Buncombe County, there have been a total of 56,424 COVID-19 cases since the pandemic’s start. Like many counties in the state, Buncombe County Community Level is now Medium (Yellow). The recommendations at this level are:

-Stay up to date on vaccines
-Get tested if you have symptoms
-If at high risk for severe illness, consider wearing a mask in indoor public spaces

“While the Community Level has been elevated, we actually saw a decrease in the COVID-like illness surveillance activity and a decrease in the case rate from the week prior,” said Public Health Director Stacie Saunders. “The epi curve is showing a potential plateau at this time, but I am cautiously optimistic in this trend given that we just celebrated the Memorial Day holiday and it is typically associated with large gatherings.”

Last week, the case rate was 306 per 100,000 compared to 270 per 100,000 this week. Hospitalizations have seen an increase in the last few weeks but remain relatively low. This wave of cases does not seem to be translating into high hospitalization rates or ICU burden as seen with the previous seasonal surges.

Similarly, the death rate has remained low and relatively flat for the last two months. There have been 585 COVID-19 related deaths among Buncombe County residents, including one additional death since last week.

There continue to be three main areas of COVID-19 response and operations: Vaccine, Testing, and Treatment. While there has not been any meaningful change in the proportion by age that has received COVID-19 vaccine, Buncombe County sees total numbers increase each week. The group with the largest increase week over week is the 3rd/Booster dose group.

Recently, children ages 5-11 years old became eligible for boosters. In the coming weeks, vaccine authorization is anticipated for children 6 months up to 5 years. It’s expected that on or around June 15, the FDA Vaccine Advisory Committee will review Moderna Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) EUA for 6 months through 5 years and the Pfizer EUA for 6 months through 4 years. Shortly after EUA, the CDC Advisory Council on Immunization Practices (ACIP) is expected to review, which is typically followed by the CDC Director recommendation. If all goes as anticipated, then we could see vaccine for this youngest group ready for administration on or around June 21, 2022.

When authorized and recommended, the vaccine for anyone six months or older will be available at the Buncombe County Health Department. Families can also check with their pediatrician for vaccine.

Buncombe County recently established a Communicable Disease and Infection Prevention team, a mobile team of health professionals who have the capacity to perform general medical care. This mobile team, partnering with Disability Partners, Area Agency on Aging, and Mountain Mobility, will hold a community vaccine clinic on June 29 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at the Disability Partners location on New Leicester Highway.

It is important to continue to stay home and away from others if you are symptomatic or have tested positive for COVID-19 to keep from spreading it to others. Testing is available in many locations. If you need to be tested for COVID-19, click here to find testing near you. Please visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/treatment for more information on available treatments and providers in our area. Households are still able to receive at-home tests from the federal administration by visiting https://www.covid.gov/tests.

Through the Test to Treat program, people are able to get tested and if they are positive and treatments are appropriate for them, receive a prescription from a health care provider, and have their prescription filled all at one location. To find local Test to Treat locations, go to https://aspr.hhs.gov/TestToTreat/Pages/default.aspx.

“The COVID-19 response is ever-evolving,” said Saunders. “We’ve learned much in the last two and half years and will continue to learn and improve and modify our work based on that knowledge we gain. We are beginning to learn how to normalize our lives with COVID-19 likely to be around for the foreseeable future. This means riding out waves of cases with the tools we have like staying up to date of vaccines, utilizing testing options for quick identification, adding on additional precautions like masks and distancing when transmission is higher, and accessing treatment quickly if we are at risk for severe illness. It also means reducing and increasing the level of all of those tools and communications based on level of surges.”

The next Buncombe County community COVID-19 update is expected in September.

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Mountain Xpress posts selected news and information of local interest as a public service for our readers. To submit press releases and other community material for possible publication, email news@mountainx.com.

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