COVID-19 cluster confirmed at Oakley Elementary

WRONG DIRECTION: Several of North Carolina’s key COVID-19 metrics have increased over the last week, Gov. Roy Cooper announced at an Oct. 6 press conference. Screen capture courtesy of NCDHHS

Five staff members at Oakley Elementary School have tested positive for COVID-19, becoming the district’s first coronavirus cluster, announced Buncombe County Schools spokesperson Stacia Harris in an Oct. 6 statement. A cluster is defined as five or more positive cases. 

Students and families were notified of the outbreak on Oct. 5, the statement says. Buncombe County Schools’ K-5 students returned to the classroom Sept. 28 under a hybrid model that combines two days of in-person learning with three days of virtual instruction. According to the statement, no students were in close contact with the infected individuals; no names or identifying information was shared due to state and federal privacy requirements. 

News of the outbreak comes a day after a third-grade teacher in Stanly County, just west of Charlotte, died from COVID-19. As of Oct. 6, there were 15 reported COVID-19 school clusters across the state, according to data released by the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services

Operations at Oakley Elementary will continue as normal, the statement says. Contact tracers with Buncombe County’s Department of Health and Human Services have identified all close contacts and provided information about testing and quarantining; anyone experiencing symptoms is encouraged to get tested. 

North Carolina cases, hospitalizations ‘moving in wrong direction’

Less than a week into Phase 3, North Carolina’s COVID-19 metrics are “moving in the wrong direction,” said Gov. Roy Cooper during an Oct. 6 press conference. The number of positive cases, hospitalizations and the percent of positive tests have all increased over the last week, confirmed Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, although it’s still too soon to link the rise in cases to looser restrictions. 

“We’re seeing a rise in cases across the state,” Cohen said. “It’s not coming from a single hotspot, like we saw in August with outbreaks linked to the reopening of colleges and universities. As we move around more, there are more opportunities for the virus to spread.” 

Buncombe County reported 63 new COVID-19 cases on Oct. 3, the county’s largest single-day increase since 64 cases were reported July 18. Statewide, 7.9% of COVID-19 tests are returning positive and 1,013 people are currently hospitalized, the highest both metrics have been in more than a month. 

“When you look at what’s happening, and you look at what’s happening across the country and know that we’re getting into the fall and winter, we remain concerned,” Cooper said. “The harder we all work to slow the spread of the virus, the faster restrictions can be eased.” 

In other news

  • Buncombe County will no longer offer free COVID-19 testing on Tuesdays at the Swannanoa Ingles. Instead, county health officials will hold mobile “pop-up” testing sites on Tuesdays to increase accessibility among historically marginalized groups. Free testing will still be available on Thursdays at the Buncombe County Sports Park and on Sundays at A-B Tech. 
  • Mountain BizWorks is accepting applications for NC Rapid Recovery loans for up to $250,000. The program is available for all North Carolina small businesses affected by COVID-19; to be eligible, businesses must have begun operations before March 23, 2020. 
  • Asheville’s holiday parade is canceled, event organizers announced Oct. 6, citing public health concerns and mass gathering limits included in the state’s Phase 3 reopening plan. Instead, the Asheville Downtown Association will host free, socially distant photos with Santa and Mrs. Claus on Saturday, Nov. 21.
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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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