County urges vigilance as COVID-19 cases creep upward

Stacie Saunders at Oct. 20 COVID-19 briefing
MASK UP: Stacie Saunders, Buncombe County's public health director, urges residents to wear face coverings and practice social distancing at an Oct. 20 presentation to the Board of Commissioners. Screen capture courtesy of Buncombe County

No particular place is to blame for the recent uptick of COVID-19 in Buncombe County, said Stacie Saunders, the county’s public health director, during an Oct. 20 update to the Board of Commissioners. Nor has a single superspreader event sent the coronavirus resurging through the community.

Instead, Saunders explained, the virus is taking continual advantage of small acts of carelessness among Buncombe residents. “People are out and about, sometimes with symptoms, putting people at risk,” she said. “Folks are not adhering to the precautions like keeping 6 feet apart.”

As a result, the county has recorded roughly 30 new COVID-19 cases per day through October, up from an average of about 20 new daily cases through most of September. According to the COVID Risk Levels dashboard developed by the Brown University School of Public Health, Buncombe is thus experiencing “accelerated spread” of the virus, under which “stay-at-home orders and/or rigorous test and trace programs” are recommended.

Dr. William Hathaway, Mission Health’s chief medical officer, said his facilities were also seeing increased numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with more than 50 patients in early October (exceeding the previous peak in late July) and 31 cases as of Oct. 20. However, he noted that those patients generally seemed to be less sick and had required fewer intensive care unit beds.

“I don’t have an explanation for that,” Hathaway admitted. “But it’s encouraging to me. It means we have adequate resources; we have adequate beds, ventilators, testing supplies and [personal protective equipment] to handle the surge right now and we are certainly much better off than we were in March.”

Commissioner Jasmine Beach-Ferrara asked the health officials whether, given the rise in viral activity, Buncombe should consider reimplementing some of the restrictions that had previously been used to slow the spread. Saunders responded that current trends didn’t yet warrant county action; instead, she emphasized that individuals should recommit themselves to basic preventative measures such as hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing.

SHARE

Thanks for reading through to the end…

We share your inclination to get the whole story. For the past 25 years, Xpress has been committed to in-depth, balanced reporting about the greater Asheville area. We want everyone to have access to our stories. That’s a big part of why we've never charged for the paper or put up a paywall.

We’re pretty sure that you know journalism faces big challenges these days. Advertising no longer pays the whole cost. Media outlets around the country are asking their readers to chip in. Xpress needs help, too. We hope you’ll consider signing up to be a member of Xpress. For as little as $5 a month — the cost of a craft beer or kombucha — you can help keep local journalism strong. It only takes a moment.

About Daniel Walton
Daniel Walton is the Assistant Editor of Mountain Xpress, regularly contributing to coverage of Western North Carolina's government, environment and health care. His work has previously appeared in Capital at Play, Edible Asheville, and the Citizen-Times, among other area publications. Follow me @DanielWWalton

Before you comment

The comments section is here to provide a platform for civil dialogue on the issues we face together as a local community. Xpress is committed to offering this platform for all voices, but when the tone of the discussion gets nasty or strays off topic, we believe many people choose not to participate. Xpress editors are determined to moderate comments to ensure a constructive interchange is maintained. All comments judged not to be in keeping with the spirit of civil discourse will be removed and repeat violators will be banned. See here for our terms of service. Thank you for being part of this effort to promote respectful discussion.

12 thoughts on “County urges vigilance as COVID-19 cases creep upward

  1. Shultz!

    I squarely place the blame on Home Depot on Fairview Rd for the rise in cases. Contractors, plumbers, electricians & other tradesmen can’t miss work due to a ‘small cough’ & so go in there for supplies…many with too fragile an ego to wear a mask. Petri dish of covid, that place is – have yet to see a venue with a higher non-mask ratio..

  2. G Man

    The coverage and commentary on this issue have become such agenda driven, political BS that it is really serving to drive a wedge into an already prominent chasm dividing people in our communities and our country.

    From the story above:

    “” Dr. William Hathaway, Mission Health’s chief medical officer, said his facilities were also seeing increased numbers of COVID-19 hospitalizations, with more than 50 patients in early October (exceeding the previous peak in late July) and 31 cases as of Oct. 20. However, he noted that those patients generally seemed to be less sick and had required fewer intensive care unit beds.

    “I don’t have an explanation for that,” Hathaway admitted. “But it’s encouraging to me. It means we have adequate resources; we have adequate beds, ventilators, testing supplies and [personal protective equipment] to handle the surge right now and we are certainly much better off than we were in March.” “”

    So, this observation of the obvious weakening of this virus seems to be getting widespread yet nobody seems to want to offer an explanation for it. Why is that? Everybody and their brother know beyond a shadow of a doubt how to explain anything that can be construed as ‘negative data’ but whenever we see ‘positive data’ it just gets poo-pooed as some anomaly that doesn’t deserve a second thought.

    … and what classifies as a surge? Why do we keep changing the meanings of words and using words that do not fit the situation we are describing?

    In other news, the NCDHHS web site COVID-19 dashboard clearly shows a current downward trend in the number of cases in the state. The 7-day rolling average has been dropping since 10-15, ( https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard ) but nobody mentions that. We just keep seeing stories about “new peaks” and “numbers creeping higher”. WTF

    Also, why do none of these stories point out the obvious correlation between the number of positive cases and the number of tests performed? Look at the top 2 graphs at the link I just posted. The curves of the 7-day rolling average for cases and tests are nearly identical. What does that tell us?

    The whole idea of curling up in a corner and waiting for the virus to leave continues to do more harm than good. COVID-19 is not a death sentence. It’s hardly more deadly than influenza but people are acting like it is the black plague. (In fact, it seems that since COVID appeared, people have stopped dying of all other causes. Who knew that the cure for cancer would come from China in the form of a virus?) Protect the vulnerable, let people get back to work instead of looking for handouts, get the kids back in school and teach them something important and useful instead of how to hide in a room staring at a computer screen all day and that they are all worthless racists.

    Where did all the Americans go to? How are we just allowing this crumbling of our society to happen before our eyes?

    • bsummers

      “Where did all the Americans go to? How are we just allowing this crumbling of our society to happen before our eyes?”

      I blame fluoridated water, right-turn-on-red, and giving women the vote.

    • Jarrod

      The scientific method works. Lockdowns, increased use of masks, limited travel, restriction on number people allowed to congregate, coupled with refined treatments of infected patients all lead to better outcomes. There is nothing political about science.

      • G Man

        Correct. There is nothing political about science.

        Picking out a “scientist” whose theory resembles what you want to believe or suits your agenda is not science. All we need to do is look at what has happened and is currently happening in other countries to see the effectiveness of lockdowns. Lockdowns, at best, delay the inevitable continued spread of the virus.

        Of course limited travel is important. The one thing required for viral spread is an infected person carrying the virus to a new location. That’s the entire basis of how it spreads.

        Banning treatments that have been proven to work is a political move.

        Creating fear and distrust over a batch of coming vaccines is a political move.

        Politicians making rules to control a population, but not following those rules themselves and allowing select groups to not follow them is a political move.

        Ignoring the fact that the virus is weakening is a political move.

        Suppressing and censoring scientific data and ideas is a political move.

        Science involves learning new things based on study, observation, and exchange of ideas. We have a slew of politicians still operating on the information we had in March.

        Attempting to destroy an entire economy, culture, and way of life based on fear mongering is a political move.

        650,000 people die in the US per year from heart disease. This year we are on pace for 605,000.
        606,000 people die in the US per year from cancer. This year we are on pace for 536,000.
        142,000 people die in the US per year from a stroke. This year we are on pace for 138,000.
        160,000 people die in the US per year from chronic lower respiratory disease. This year we are on pace for 134,000.
        122,000 people die in the US per year from Alzheimer’s disease. This year we are on pace for 117,000.
        This data would suggest that in the year of COVID-19, we expect 150,000 less deaths from these 5 leading causes of death in the US.

        Correct. There is nothing political about science.

        • bsummers

          “Attempting to destroy an entire economy, culture, and way of life based on fear mongering is a political move.”

          Absolutely no one is doing that. Suggesting that anyone is doing that is, with all due respect, whackadoodle.

          1
          1
          • G Man

            Whackadoodle is:

            – Suggesting that people should NEVER shake hands again
            – Drawing a COVID line between wet sand and dry sand on a California beach
            – Warning people not to have Thanksgiving dinner with family because it’s too dangerous
            – Allowing rioters and looters to smash, burn, steal, murder, torment, and randomly destroy public property and monuments while arresting others for tossing a frisbee in the park
            – Suggesting that bars and restaurants across the nation should be remodeled to restrict business to a fraction of current capacity (assuming they re-open at all)
            – Denying communities the Constitutionally protected right of assembling for religious worship services
            – Declaring that particular workers deemed “essential” are somehow able to avoid infecting or being infected but others are not
            – Allowing all politicians to continue receiving a full tax-payer funded salary while banishing millions of taxpayers from the work force
            – Suggesting that a virus is racist and therefore just another symbol of systemic flaws

            OK, I could continue, of course, but I am even boring myself.

            BTW, this is day 7 now of a downward trend of the 7-day rolling average of new COVID cases in the state ( https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov/dashboard ), yet the big story today is that Uncle Roy says “In light of increasing coronavirus cases, hospitalizations and positive test rates, North Carolina will remain in Phase 3 of its COVID-19 reopening for an additional three weeks”.

          • G Man

            So, I see you and others are assigning things to me that I never said or even implied. I can’t say that I’m surprised.

            For your information, I do wear a mask whenever I go out in public and cannot “social distance”, although I admit, I do not wear a mask when I am driving by myself in my own vehicle, so there you go, guilty as charged. My point is that I don’t believe all of the “science” that is being pushed as fact when it is not.

            Why don’t any of you specify what I have taken out of context? Really, if I am wrong, I will fess up. If I still think I am right, I will defend my position. That’s how adult exchanges used to take place. I don’t fault anyone for disagreeing with me, just be willing to defend your position with something other than rhetoric and insults.

            I do not agree with the cops who trashed the med station. Then again, I also know that we have a state legislature for a reason, and Roy Cooper is not a member of it. Our governor does not have the powers that he has assumed in 2020 (the power to unilaterally make laws and assign penalties) but I agree it is a good idea to wear masks in public so I go along with it because I think it is right, not because I acknowledge this as a legit power of the governor.

            I would say that a majority of our politicians in the state are unnecessary to begin with, much less during this pandemic. It seems to me that the only answer they can come up with for anything is that “it’s the Federal government’s fault”. That said, it has in fact been the county and state governments who have decided to lock us all down and keep a thumb over us until we succumb to their orders.

            So, explain to me what abortion has to do with this discussion and how you know my stance on the subject and what it is that I (and other like me apparently) need to do to make this pandemic go away faster. I keep hearing that there is a way to do this but I have yet to hear an actual plan. I work at home, I wear a mask in public, and I am not infected, so what else am I supposed to be doing? I’m more concerned for those who don’t have the opportunity to work at home. I actually think about people who are different and /or in different circumstances from myself. Are you saying that everyone who is out of work because of lockdowns is a snowflake? Are these people the problem? Would it make you feel better if they went out and aborted something?

        • luther blissett

          “This data would suggest that in the year of COVID-19, we expect 150,000 less deaths from these 5 leading causes of death in the US.”

          Yeah, no. That’s cherry-picking in October, when there aren’t any cherries to pick.

          Epidemiologists typically work with excess-death measures, which takes into account the idea that other causes of death might go down due to the measures required to control a pandemic, and also works around the nitpicking attempts to distinguish “died from” and “died with”. You work out how many people you’d expect to die in a year, and you match that against the raw number of deaths. And then you can look into the crosstabs and try to distinguish between deaths from illness and what Case and Deaton would call “deaths of despair”:

          https://www.cdc.gov/nchs/nvss/vsrr/covid19/excess_deaths.htm

          East Asia got it mostly right after the initial hardships by being willing to do centralized quarantine and isolation. Western Europe had a brief respite and is now relapsing. (Aside from Germany, Austria and the German parts of Switzerland: go figure.)

          The US got bored and is now going to have a hard, hard winter. It failed the marshmallow test.

Leave a Reply

To leave a reply you may Login with your Mountain Xpress account, connect socially or enter your name and e-mail. Your e-mail address will not be published. All fields are required.