North Carolina hits new COVID-19 peak

WEAR, WAIT, WASH: Gov. Roy Cooper called on North Carolina residents to wear face coverings in the presence of anyone who does not live in the same house. COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and the percent of positive tests continue to increase. Photo courtesy of NCDPS

Gov. Roy Cooper’s message at an Oct. 15 press conference was loud and clear: COVID-19 is getting worse. And North Carolina residents need to step up and do their part to slow the viral spread. 

The 2,532 new COVID-19 cases reported Oct. 15 marked the state’s highest one-day increase since the pandemic began in March, Cooper said. The previous greatest increase occurred July 18 with 2,486 new cases. 

The four metrics North Carolina uses to track viral spread are all increasing, said Dr. Mandy Cohen, the state’s secretary of health and human services. Sufficient hospital capacity remains for COVID-19 patients, she emphasized, but smaller hospitals are starting to feel the strain — just as flu season sets in. North Carolina’s first flu-related death for the 2020-21 season was reported on Oct. 15. 

“Look, this isn’t where we want to be, and frankly, it’s frustrating,” Cohen said. “We have the tools to slow the spread and protect each other. The science is clear on masks: They work to slow the spread, but only if everyone is working together to wear them.” 

Locally, Buncombe County health officials are seeing more people not abiding by social distancing guidelines or wearing face coverings, as directed by a statewide mandate. “It seems as if people are beginning to relax these protective measures, and we are seeing an increase in cases as a result,” health department spokesperson Stacey Wood wrote in response to questions submitted by local media outlets.  

The state’s current Phase 3 executive order is set to expire on Friday, Oct. 23. Health officials will continue to monitor coronavirus data and decide on next steps early next week, Cooper said. 

No one wants to go backwards in the reopening process, Cohen emphasized. But if more restrictions become necessary to slow viral spread, high-risk indoor activities will be the first to go. 

“I know we’re all tired of this, and it’s frustrating to feel confined and do the things we need to do to slow the spread of the virus,” Cooper said. “But we can’t let weariness and frustration win out. Wearing masks and being careful are more important than ever before. We’ve brought our numbers down before, and we need to do it again.”

Plans for vaccine distribution expected this week 

NCDHHS officials expect to submit a plan for statewide distribution of an eventual COVID-19 vaccine on Friday, Oct. 16. Acknowledging that initial supplies of any vaccine will be limited, Cohen said, the current strategy is to prioritize frontline workers and staff and residents at long-term care facilities. 

Clinical trials are underway for 45 COVID-19 vaccines; in North Carolina, researchers with UNC Chapel Hill’s School of Medicine, the Cape Fear Valley Health Care System, the Carolina Institute for Clinical Health and Wake Forest Research of Raleigh are all participating in late-stage trials of the Moderna vaccine. 

On Oct. 12, drugmaker Johnson & Johnson paused its vaccine trial, a move Cohen finds reassuring. “This shows us that the process is working,” she said. “This means they are really looking to make sure that all of the vaccines that come out of these trials that will go for FDA approval are safe and effective.”

In other news

  • Have old prescription medicines lying around? On Saturday, Oct. 24, Mission Health will hold a “Crush the Crisis” opioid take back day. Community members are invited to anonymously dispose of unused or expired prescriptions at the following locations: Mission Hospital in Asheville, 10 a.m. – 2 p.m; Angel Medical Center in Franklin, 10 a.m.-2 p.m; Blue Ridge Regional Hospital in Spruce Pine, 10 a.m.-noon; Mission Hospital McDowell, 10 a.m.-2 p.m; Transylvania Regional Hospital, 10 a.m.-2 p.m. 
  • On Friday, Oct. 30, Buncombe County and the American Red Cross will hold a blood drive at Harrah’s Cherokee Center – Asheville, 10 a.m.-2:30 p.m. All blood donations will be tested for COVID-19 antibodies, and all donors will receive a Halloween candy treat bag. 
  • Buncombe County will offer free flu shots at the Stephens-Lee Recreation Center 2-6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16.

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About Molly Horak
Molly Horak served as a reporter at Mountain Xpress. Follow me @molly_horak

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