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Rowan health director: Use proven precautions to slow outbreak

By Shavonne Potts

shavonne.potts@salisburypost.com

SALISBURY — After the number of COVID-19 cases more than tripled here in a week, Rowan County’s Public Health Director said Saturday residents should still heed proven precautions to slow the spread of outbreak.

Those precautions now include wearing a face covering or mask in public after the Centers for Disease Control reversed its previous recommendation. In particular, the CDC says, people should voluntarily wear masks in public settings where other social distancing measures are tough to maintain. Grocery stores and pharmacies are an example. As more knowledge has come to light, the CDC said asymptomatic people could spread the virus. Up to 25% of people with COVID-19 may not show symptoms, the CDC says.

Importantly, the recommendation is not for surgical masks or N-95 respirators, which are critical supplies for health care workers.

Oliver said the state and national trend is that people are testing positive for the virus with no symptoms. She said that is not necessarily true in Rowan County, but that people are feeling completely fine are infecting others, she explained.

“So if they are testing positive, that means they are infectious. Just because they have no symptoms does not mean that if they infect somebody else that they are going to be symptomless also,” Oliver said.

Oliver said there are two categories of people — those who are taking the outbreak seriously and abiding by what’s been recommended and others who are doing what they want.

“I don’t know if there’s a way to change the minds of those people. The only thing we can do is continue to offer education and explain why social distancing is so important and why handwashing is so important,” she said. “You certainly don’t want to be the one to pass the virus onto your mom or dad and they pass away. That’s a horrible feeling to live with.”

As public health officials, Oliver said they are working to get more education out to the public.

Testing results

Pandemics like COVID-19 typically go in phases, Oliver said. Currently, Rowan County is in the “acceleration phase,” where the virus has latched on and spread to people community-wide, she said.

“It’s probably going to take at least two to three weeks before we start seeing the impact of social distancing bringing the caseload down,” Oliver said.

Testing results have slowed as more specimen have been collected. And in the last two weeks, some results have taken more than 10-13 days. Labs are inundated with tests, she said.

“It takes them longer to turn them out. That’s normal, but when you’re sick and waiting for results that’s very frustrating,” she said.

The state lab at one time had a backlog of 10,000 tests, but that’s not the case now because they’ve caught up, Oliver said.

Here, there have been 803 specimens submitted, with 46 people testing positive as of Saturday. That’s compared to just 14 positive cases one week ago. Of the 46 positive cases, officials have found 15 of those were travel-related and 31 were the result of people spreading the virus locally. The Public Health Department said 11 patients have recovered, six are hospitalized, one person has deceased. Health officials  continue to follow-up with 28 individuals.

The results are from the NC State Laboratory of Public Health and all reporting hospital and commercial labs.

The largest number of cases in Rowan County are in the 28147 and 28144 zip codes, where there are 14 and 12 confirmed cases, respectively. Spencer’s zip code, 28159 had the third-largest number of cases, with 7, according to the county’s zip code map that is available online via the county’s website.

As of Saturday, there were 38,773 tests completed in the state. Of those, 2,402 have been positive for COVID-19. There have been a total of 24 deaths reported in the state, and 271 people are currently hospitalized, according to the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services. This number reflects the 88 counties reporting information.

Virus spread

One myth that has been circulating, Oliver said, is that the virus is airborne. And she clarified that in an interview with the Post.

“Viruses are spread in two different ways: either by droplets or by airborne. Some people are very scared because they feel like this is airborne or they think this is an airborne virus. It’s not an airborne virus. It is a droplet virus,” she said.

That could mean standing next to someone who is infected and they sneeze. The virus travels in that person’s saliva and mucus about three to four feet in the droplets. Then it falls, Oliver said.

The main factors that lead to infection are the length of time people are around someone who is infected, the distance from someone who is infected if that person projectiles virus droplets and how much you touch your face. That is why health officials advise people wash their hands or use hand sanitizer because there are three outlets on the face where the virus can be absorbed: mouth, nose and eyes.

“All three are mucus membranes. So, if you’ve got the virus on your hands and you’re touching your face it can be absorbed into your mucus membranes and now you’ve got the virus,” Oliver said.

Rowan County is similar to the state in that there is a 5% infection rate.

Tips/precautions

• The CDC recommends that everyone wear a surgical or homemade mask when out in the public because people are asymptomatic. Leave the N-95 respirators for healthcare professionals.

• Look to reliable sources for COVID-19 information including the CDC, NCDHHS, Rowan County Department of Public Health or the local news.

• The virus cannot replicate without a living host. In order for it to survive it has to go into a living cell or human. Once it lands on a surface, it will live, depending on the surface from anywhere to four to 72 hours. Then it will die. It cannot live again without a host. So cleaning surfaces often.

• Wash/disinfect often-touched surfaces every day including doorknobs, light switches, car handles, car steering wheels, cellphones, and countertops.

Anyone who believes they have symptoms of the coronavirus or who have questions are urged to contact their health care provider or the Rowan County Health Department hotline at 980-432-1800.

County response

The county has relied on public service announcements, recommendations, reminders about the government stay at home order and tips to educate the public on COVID-19.

The county has begun regularly updating its website and set up a special virus-focused webpage — rowancountync.gov/COVID-19 — to reflect how the local population is faring with the infection, said Rowan Emergency Services Chief Chris Soliz.

The biggest strategy is education and communicating accurate information, Soliz said.

“We absolutely let the citizens of the county know that the county services and offices remain operational. They may look different but services are still available,” Soliz said.

He said staff are also making sure county employees are supplied and safe.

“We are doing everything we can to follow the same advice that we are giving the general public — meetings are virtual meetings, office spaces are more spread out and conversations are at a distance with your co-workers,” he said.

Predicting when COVID-19 will end is hard to do, Soliz said. So county staff are trying to focus on short-term needs and planning for a long duration, he said.

“We obviously, like everybody else, hope it will end very soon but we are making plans for a longer duration,” Soliz said.

 

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