By now, it sounds like a broken record: New COVID-19 cases and total coronavirus-related hospitalizations in North Carolina both hit new highs today. But how the case record was broken is itself a record: On Dec. 3, the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services reported 5,637 new cases, more than 1,000 above the previous record set on Nov. 22 and the largest margin by which a previous high has been exceeded.
Buncombe County similarly set a new daily case record with 106 new cases reported on Dec. 3, breaking the previous high of 72 cases on Nov. 24.
Statewide COVID-19 hospitalizations topped 2,100 on Dec. 2, the latest day of available data. That same day, national hospitalizations surpassed 100,000 for the first time; simultaneously, according to the Johns Hopkins University Coronavirus Resource Center, the United States reported 2,804 COVID-19 fatalities, the highest single-day death toll since the start of the pandemic.
As of Dec. 3, the Mission Health system was treating 84 patients with lab-confirmed cases of COVID-19. Mission Hospital in Asheville is caring for 64 of those patients, said spokesperson Nancy Lindell; Blue Ridge Regional and Mission Hospital McDowell both have eight, Angel Medical Center has two, and Highlands-Cashiers and Transylvania Regional each have one.
North Carolina’s percentage of coronavirus tests returning positive, a metric used to assess the level of community viral spread, was 10.1% on Dec. 1 — more than double the 5% positivity rate state health officials have set as a target.
In Western North Carolina, the following new cases per 100,000 residents were reported to NCDHHS the week of Nov. 26-Dec. 3:
- McDowell: 356, down from 367 reported the previous week
- Haywood: 292, up from 278 reported the previous week
- Madison: 280, up from 382 reported the previous week
- Buncombe: 168, up from 156 reported the previous week
- Henderson: 162, down from 172 reported the previous week
The Dec. 3 jump in cases may partially be attributed to reporting delays following last week’s Thanksgiving holiday. Health experts, including Erin Kissane, co-founder of the volunteer COVID Tracking Project, have warned that states could see inflated single-day spikes in cases the week after Thanksgiving as data reporting catches up with the holiday backlog.
At a Dec. 3 press conference, Dr. Mandy Cohen, North Carolina’s secretary of health and human services, said the new records were “alarming.”
“I know it’s been a long year and a lot of people are working really hard,” Cohen said. “When we see more than 5,600 cases reported in 24 hours, it can feel discouraging. But we know what works: The 3Ws. Wear a face covering, wait 6 feet apart, wash your hands and get behind the mask.”
Mask, capacity enforcement begins locally
A COVID-19 task force consisting of public health officials, Asheville Police Department officers, members of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department and city and county fire marshals will begin enforcing state face covering protocols and capacity limits on Dec. 3, said health department spokesperson Stacey Wood.
The move comes a week after Buncombe County Board of Commissioners Chair Brownie Newman and Asheville Mayor Esther Manheimer updated local executive orders to reflect stricter state mask guidelines. The task force’s work was delayed due to the Thanksgiving holiday, Wood said.
Task force members will preemptively patrol area businesses and respond to complaints submitted by community members, local leaders explained at a Nov. 25 press conference. To report a business in violation of COVID-19 safety guidelines, call 828-419-0095 or email email@example.com.
In other news
- The final deadline for agricultural producers to sign up for the federal Coronavirus Food Assistance Program is Friday, Dec. 11. Livestock, vegetable, fruit, nursery, Christmas tree and other farmers are all eligible for financial assistance. More information can be found here.
- A Buncombe County Sheriff’s Office deputy working in court security has tested positive for COVID-19, the county reports. Contact tracing revealed potential exposure to eight other deputies, who will remain out of work until COVID-19 test results are returned.
- Open enrollment for 2021 health care coverage under the Affordable Care Act ends Tuesday, Dec. 15. Pisgah Legal Services is offering free assistance to WNC residents looking to review their options and sign up for plans.