While only two cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, have so far been confirmed in North Carolina, local health department officials are working with state and federal agencies to monitor people within Buncombe County who may be infected. Dr. Jennifer Mullendore, medical director for the county’s Health and Human Services, shared the news during a March 5 press conference, the second such update local leaders have held on the disease.
“Since the beginning of February, we have been monitoring people who have returned from areas where they had potential exposure to COVID-19, and we have step processes in place where we check in with them daily for the 14 days after their arrival,” Mullendore explained.
While Mullendore said she was unable to disclose how many people in the county were being monitored for potential exposure, she emphasized that Buncombe still had no confirmed cases. “Again, the health risks to the general public in North Carolina remain low at this time. We are not aware of any community-level spread in North Carolina,” she added.
People who are experiencing symptoms of the illness — fever, cough and shortness of breath — should avoid entering hospitals or other health care facilities, Mullendore said. She advised those feeling ill to contact their health care provider, who will screen patients based on symptoms and recent travel to determine whether there was a potential for exposure.
Mild cases of COVID-19, she continued, do not require hospitalization or medical treatment beyond riding out the illness at home. “We want to make sure that the people who are going to the hospital are the people who need hospital-based care, and we don’t want to expose people unnecessarily,” the medical director said.
Local testing for COVID-19 is being facilitated through the State Laboratory of Public Health and must be approved by the N.C. Communicable Disease Branch. According to data collected by Johns Hopkins University, 238 cases of COVID-19 had impacted people across the U.S. as of noon on March 6 — including one confirmed North Carolina case in both Wake and Chatham counties — and had so far resulted in 14 deaths.
Mullendore said that in light of those numbers, influenza remains a bigger current threat to the area. N.C. Division of Public Health data indicates that 127 state residents, including four children, have died from the flu during the current seasonal outbreak.
“I just want people to, again, put things into perspective,” she said.
Buncombe County HHS spokesperson Stacey Wood said the agency will continue to provide weekly updates on the status of the virus. General, nonmedical questions about coronavirus preparations can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org. Information about COVID-19 in Buncombe County is available through the county’s website.