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.