Lab-confirmed COVID-19 cases are rising in Buncombe County “at an alarming rate,” said Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s interim health director, during a July 9 press conference. County health officials recorded nearly 50 new COVID-19 cases on July 8; as of 2 p.m. on July 9, 42 additional cases had been reported, bringing Buncombe’s total case count up to 777.
More than 18,400 COVID-19 tests have been performed on county residents and long-term care facility staff since the start of the pandemic, Mullendore continued. In the last week, the county’s percentage of positive tests has jumped from 2% to 4%. Although North Carolina’s statewide positivity rate hovers around 9%, the local increase indicates a rise in the coronavirus’ community prevalence.
Dr. William Hathaway, Mission Health’s chief medical officer, noted there is a 10- to 14-day lag between infections and when health officials see increased COVID-19 cases. The impact of the July 4 holiday, he explained, has therefore yet to show in the county’s case count; he said he expects an increase “because of human nature and increased social gatherings.”
A national increase in COVID-19 testing and a national shortage of the needed reagents is causing a delay in test results from commercial labs, Mullendore added. Individuals tested at Buncombe’s community testing sites should expect to receive results within five to eight days; anyone tested is expected to isolate until their COVID-19 status is confirmed.
Because data must be manually entered into the county’s COVID-19 dashboard, updated numbers will take several days to appear, Mullendore said. In the meantime, she emphasized the continued importance of the “3Ws:” Wearing a face covering, washing your hands and waiting six feet apart.
“Not wearing a mask and not keeping physical distance from others gives the virus the freedom to spread, the freedom to infect those around you, the freedom to make people very sick and the freedom to kill,” she said. “If you want to be free of this virus, we must all work together and follow these simple recommendations.”
School reopening decision to come next week
As North Carolina saw its COVID-19 hospitalizations top 1,000 and marked its second-highest day of new COVID-19 cases, Gov. Roy Cooper pledged that a decision on K-12 public school reopening would come next week.
“We continue to get excellent input from teachers, parents, superintendents and health officials,” Cooper said during a July 9 press conference. “We want our children back in school safely.”
Right now, there are no plans for asymptomatic students or staff to be tested for COVID-19 in advance of their return to the schools, explained Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. Instead, she said health officials are focusing on low-cost options that are easier to implement, such as social distancing, hand washing and face coverings.
An announcement regarding the next steps in the state’s reopening will also come next week, Cooper said. The current executive order, which kept North Carolina in Phase 2 of the governor’s three-phase reopening plan, is set to expire Friday, July 17.
In other news
- The Henderson County Health Department will offer community-based COVID-19 testing on Tuesday, July 14, from 9 a.m.-3p.m. at East Henderson High School. Testing is free, and community members do not need a referral or have symptoms to be tested.
- Buncombe County and Western North Carolina Community Health Services will hold community-based COVID-19 testing at A-B Tech’s Allied Health parking lot on Sunday, July 12, from 1:30-5:30 p.m. Ongoing testing will continue next week at Ingles Markets at 2217 US Highway 70 in Swannanoa and the Buncombe County Sports Park at 58 Apac Drive; more details can be found here.
- The 2020 Mountain State Fair has officially been canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The fair was originally scheduled to take place in mid-September.