People with symptoms walking around health director says
ASHEVILLE – Local COVID-19 infections are spiking at the same rates seen during the first surge back in July, Buncombe County’s top health official said, with cases appearing to be linked to lack of basic precautions.
“As our communicable disease teams are doing the case investigations, they’re not finding any one particular location or facility site that folks are visiting more than others,” Health Director Stacie Saunders told Buncombe’s Board of Commissioners during an Oct 20 pandemic update.
“But what they are finding is that people are out and about. Sometimes with symptoms.”
Saunders gave the latest county report as much of the world is watching a second wave of infections rise up at the same time the northern hemisphere moves into the heart of flu season.
The U.S. now has 8.1 million cases and more than 219,000 deaths, according to the World Health Organization. In North Carolina, the Oct. 20 case numbers were 248,750 and 3,992 deaths.
Buncombe reported 3,800 cases and 98 deaths.
“The majority of these cases, about 41% of them, have occurred in 25 to 49-year-olds,” Saunders said.
Like other public health officials around the world, Saunders was unequivocal in her support for masks, despite statements from the White House and its allies disparaging their use.
“People are not adhering to the precautions like keeping 6 feet apart, in our case investigations” and are putting other people at risk, she said.
Keeping that social distance, wearing masks and washing hands remain the key measures to fighting back the latest spike, she said. If someone has symptoms, they should stay at home, away from others if possible, and contact their health provider.
Tests can be taken at private providers, such as urgent cares and pharmacies, as well as the county’s community testing sites.
Oct. 3 saw 63 new cases reported. That compares to the county’s high of 64 cases seen July 18.
The rate of positive tests was still not above 5%, the level at which health officials recommend curtailing public activity. But it had risen from 3.3% on Oct. 6 to 3.5%, Saunders said.
In Mission Hospital the number of people hospitalized with COVID-19 had also risen to July’s highest levels, said Chief Medical Officer Dr. William Hathaway. Mission’s and the county’s numbers overlap but don’t cover the same population since the health department tracks infections among residents, while Mission has patients from in and outside the county.
“What you see that is concerning to me is we are approaching If not, surpassing our peak of patients that we have hospitalized in July,” Hathaway said.
The good news, the hospital’s chief medical officer said, was despite the high case count, the number of people in intensive care units and on ventilators had not risen to high levels, and the health system was not in danger of being overwhelmed.
“I don’t have an explanation for that. There’s lots of proposed explanations. But encouraging to me, is it means that we have adequate resources,” he said. “We have adequate beds, ventilators, testing supplies and PPE to handle the surge right now. And we are certainly much better off than we were back in March when we first encountered this illness and had very much limited supplies.
Joel Burgess has lived in WNC for more than 20 years, covering politics, government and other news. He’s written award-winning stories on topics ranging from gerrymandering to police use of force. Please help support this type of journalism with a subscription to the Citizen Times.
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