COVID-19 testing rates have slowly dropped over the past several weeks, both in North Carolina and across the country, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services, at an Aug. 25 press conference. But for those who do get tested, she emphasized, state labs have the capacity to quickly process results.
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services now tracks statewide testing turnaround times on its COVID-19 dashboard. As of Aug. 27, the average wait time is 2.1 days.
At Buncombe County’s community testing sites, the wait time is even less: approximately 24 hours, according to Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, the county’s medical director. During an Aug. 27 press conference, she noted that positivity rate of tests at these sites is just under 7%, indicating that the county is targeting and testing the right people. Buncombe’s overall testing positivity rate is 4.3%, according to NCDHHS data from Aug. 27.
Statewide testing positivity now stands at 8.2%, up from a low of 5.9% on Aug. 9. At an Aug. 26 press conference, Cohen attributed the increase to COVID-19 clusters at universities, including off-campus group houses, fraternity and sorority houses and other congregate living settings.
On Aug. 25, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention changed its recommendations for COVID-19 testing, stating that only individuals exhibiting symptoms should be tested. Cohen countered that recommendation during her Aug. 26 appearance: North Carolina’s guidelines, she said, advise COVID-19 testing for anyone with symptoms of COVID-19; all close contacts of known cases; people in regular contact with high-risk settings or who are high risk themselves; frontline or essential workers; people from historically marginalized populations; and people who have attended protests or mass gatherings.
Cooper proposes allocations from federal COVID-19 relief
If Gov. Roy Cooper has his way, the state’s public health services will soon get a shot in the arm. The governor unveiled his recommended budget adjustments to allocate more than $900 million of federal coronavirus relief funds at an Aug. 26 press conference. State officials previously allocated $1.4 billion from the federal pot of about $3.6 billion in May.
Cooper recommends $175 million for “critical public health services,” including $25 million for tracing and testing initiatives and $50 million to aid historically marginalized and rural populations. The budget also proposes $230 million for a one-time, $2,000 bonus to K-12 public school teachers, $50 million in direct aid to food banks and $49 million to build a state stockpile of personal protective equipment.
Cooper again urged legislators to fully expand Medicaid, a move he said would provide health coverage to an estimated 600,000 state residents. North Carolina is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid since states became eligible in 2014; disagreement over the topic prevented the General Assembly from passing a full budget last year.
In other news
- Former Vice President Joe Biden issued a statement in support of Mission Hospital nurses’ ongoing efforts to unionize. “I’m proud to stand by the Mission RNs in their collective bid for a better, safer, and more equitable workplace — an impressive show of solidarity not just for themselves, but for the heath of their entire community,” the Democratic presidential nominee said.
- Buncombe County’s community COVID-19 testing sites will be closed on Sunday, Sept. 6, and Tuesday, Sept. 8, for the Labor Day holiday. Testing will resume on Thursday, Sept. 10, at the Buncombe County Sport Park from 9:30 a.m.–1:30 p.m.
- The city of Asheville is offering a repayment plan for customers behind on their utility bill payments. Customers with outstanding charges will have until Thursday, Feb. 18, to repay all charges; if the entire balance, including new charges, is not paid by February, utilities will be disconnected.
- From 9 a.m.–1 p.m. Saturday, Aug. 29, the Henderson County Health Department will host free walk-in COVID-19 testing. No referral is needed, and community members do not need to be symptomatic to get tested.