Ahead of Thanksgiving, COVID-19 spreads across North Carolina

NEW MILESTONES: COVID-19 cases continue to rise across North Carolina. On Nov. 22, daily new cases topped 4,500 for the first time. Statewide deaths due to the coronaviruss now exceed 5,000. Photo courtesy of Getty Images

On Nov. 22, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 4,514 new cases of COVID-19 across the state, marking the latest record for the most cases recorded in a single day. Statewide deaths due to the coronavirus now exceed 5,000. COVID-19 hospitalizations also topped 1,600 for the first time on Nov. 22, the latest day of available hospital data. 

Typically, North Carolina’s new COVID-19 case counts have followed a cyclical pattern: Numbers are usually much lower on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday because fewer tests are administered on the weekend and higher by the end of the week. The Nov. 22 case record — reported on a Sunday — does not follow this trend, although new cases on Nov. 23 were again lower at 2,419.

Speaking at a press conference on Nov. 20, Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, said she was “very concerned” about the rising numbers ahead of the upcoming holiday week. Despite new recommendations released by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urging Americans to limit Thanksgiving travel, more than 2 million Americans passed through U.S. airports over the weekend. 

“We’re seeing warning signs in the data and trends that we as a state need to heed,” Cohen said. “We have the tools to slow viral spread — wear a face mask, wait 6 feet apart and wash your hands. We want to spread joy, not the virus.” 

Buncombe County similarly set another local record on Nov. 22 with 70 new cases, up from 65 new cases on Nov. 20. The county’s test positivity rate has risen to 4.7%, very close to the 5% threshold state health officials have identified as the target for keeping viral spread under control. 

Gov. Roy Cooper and members of the North Carolina Coronavirus Task Force will hold a press conference on Monday, Nov. 23, at 2 p.m. While Cooper and Cohen have emphasized that they don’t want to impose additional statewide restrictions, both have previously said they will do what is necessary to keep North Carolina residents safe if metrics don’t improve. 

Schools, congregate living facilities see increased cases

According to the most recent weekly COVID-19 report released by the Asheville City and Buncombe County school districts, 30 students and staff members tested positive for COVID-19 Nov. 10-18. These cases were recorded across 20 different public and charter schools, with no reported clusters (defined as five or more linked cases). 

All Asheville City Schools buildings will be closed Monday-Friday, Nov. 30-Dec. 4. The decision was made by Superintendent Gene Freeman on Nov 20. to give families traveling for Thanksgiving time to quarantine following the holiday, district spokesperson Ashley-Michelle Thublin wrote in a statement. During that time, the district’s community PODS will be closed for in-person instruction, and food distribution sites will not be serving meals. 

COVID-19 outbreaks in congregate living facilities are also rising. As of Nov. 20, 10 Buncombe County nursing homes and four residential care facilities had an active COVID-19 outbreak, defined by NCDHHS as two or more cases. An outbreak at the Franklin County Jail had infected 33 residents and six staff members, the McDowell County Jail reports six cases among staff and residents, and the Swain County Jail has seen four cases among staff. 

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About Molly Horak
Molly is a recent graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and writer for Mountain Xpress. Her work has appeared in the Citizen-Times, News and Observer and Charlotte Observer. Follow me @molly_horak

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