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County’s COVID-19 trends not improving, official says... Vaccine arrival termed ‘a wonderful event,’ but vigilance needed till immunizations’ widespread
Friday, 01 January 2021 14:33

From Staff Reports

Buncombe County’s COVID-19 case count continues to surge at ever higher rates, as the evidence mounts that many residents failed to heed urging by health officials to avoid — or at least be ultra-vigilant at — gatherings over Thanksgiving, Buncombe County Public Health Director Stacie Saunders said during a weekly COVID-19 community briefing on Dec. 23.

Specifically, Saunders told those attending the briefing, “Our cumulative COVID-19 case count is currently 8,220. In our community, we have lost 143 of our own neighbors related to COVID-19.

“Our average cases per day continue to grow and we adding about 135 new cases. on average, to our local count.

“Additionally, our percent positivity has climbed over 5 percent in the last four weeks. Around Nov. 23, our percent positivity was 4.7. We now have a percent positivity of 8.3.

“This, coupled with our growing new cases per 100,000 per week, is indicative of substantial and increased community transmisision.

“As a result, our county has now been designated ‘orange’ in the state’s county alert system. (Under the state’s alert system, orange means “substantial community spread” and it is the middle tier color. Red means “critical community spread” and is the most dire designation, while yellow is the least dire, meaning “significant community spread.” As of Dec. 23, more than 90 percent of North Carolina counties were either in the red or orange zones.)

Continuing, Saunders said, “Our state has reached over over 495,000 identified cases of COVID-19, cumulatively. And we are adding record numbers of new cases in the last few days.

“Our local hospitals have seen an increase in daily in-patient numbers associated with COVID-19. Mission Hospital System is currently reporting over 100 new COVID-19 patients, on average, each day.

“Testing in our community continues to be high. We are seeing an average of 8,000 tests completed each week. This is extraordinary and we are grateful to all the staff and partners who are making this happen throughout our community.

“We have to reduce the spread of COVID-19 and blunt the impact to our health care system. Our efforts are needed now to turn these trends around. We face sustained — a  if not a significant — increase in cases, in the coming days, if we do nothing.

“No doubt you have started to think about your holiday plans. We do not recommend travel to be with folks outside of your household. If you are celebrating with only your household, thank you for choosing to limit your interactions with others. 

“If you are choosing to celebrate with others outside your household, either in your homes or others’ homes, please remember to wear a mask, keep your distance and wash your hands. Even if these are family members and close friends, wear your mask and keep six feet apart.... If you got a COVID test prior to your gathering, even if your test was negative, use a mask and stay six feet apart

“Thanksgiving showed us that folks gathering with others outside of their households did not practice the “three W’s” and let their guards down. Please remember, wearing a mask, keeping distance and washing your hands matter. They do reduce the spread and help protect you and others from exposure to COVID 19....

“Please consider other ways to express fellowship and joy with friends and family, instead of traditional gatherings.

“We have seen, and continue to see, that when people are in environments where they are in close proximity with one another without wearing a mask, we see exposure and spread. Please do not put yourself and others at risk. Stay within your household, limit your interactions with others. If you are sick, stay home. 

“These simple and easy measures are so important to stop the spread, as we roll out vaccines.

“Immunizations will be rolled out using the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Service prioritization framework.

“Buncombe County Health and Human Services with our partners at Emergency Services and others, began rolling out vaccines on Dec. 22. On our first day, we immunized 150 individuals, mostly medical first-responders. This was a momentous day — and we are excited to be moving vaccine into our community.

“Fletcher (Tove) and I just came from working our day two vaccine site, where we currently are vaccinating other medical first-responders and others involved in testing and vaccine efforts. (Tove is Buncombe’s public health emergency preparedness coordinator / safety and security officer.)

“In the coming days, we will be moving through our 1-A provider groups and getting more and more of our health care workers, who are critical to care and support of COVID-19 patients.

“As our vaccine supply increases, we will continue to move through the Department of Health and Human Services’ phases of administration, working our way to community distribution.

“Vaccine arrival is a wonderful event. But until vaccine supply can support immunizations for everyone in our community, consider your neighors, your family and your own health. Please give each other the gift of health his holiday. Wear a mask, stay six feet away, wash your hands and stay within your holiday to slow the spread.”

She then summarized her talk with these “takeways:”

• “Trends are not improving.

• “Celebrate the holidays within your own household. 

• “Please remember that if you did get tested before the holidays, a negative test is not a guarantee — please continue to use the three ‘W’s.’”

At that point, Saunders added, “These are not easy times. But this is very important — and a pivotal moment in our history. Where we can all say we pitched in, when it mattered the most, to slow the pandemic.

“Take care of yourself and others. Be patient with yourself and others. Know that public health and our health care providers and health care workers will be working nonstop over the holidays.



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