As additional North Carolina businesses reopen, more people are leaving their homes, and COVID-19 cases are increasing at a rapid rate.
Although fireworks and parades are cancelled in Warren County amid the ongoing pandemic, with the Fourth of July approaching, people are also making plans to gather with family and friends.
Whether celebrating on the Fourth, going out or meeting up with others more since the stay at home order was amended on May 22, the backyard BBQ and other scaled-down celebrations, gatherings and everyday outings can still be done safely. The new order requires that indoor gatherings be limited to 10 people or less and outside gatherings to 25 people or less.
Dr. Margaret Brake, director of the Warren County Health Department (WCHD) and Kaye Hall, the director of nursing, highly recommend that area residents engage in these three practices to prevent exposure to and spread of the coronavirus:
Wear a mask or cloth face covering, especially when indoors and social distancing is not possible; wait six feet apart to avoid close contact with others; and, wash hands often, for at least 20 seconds, or use a hand sanitizer if you can’t wash your hands. “We know that these three practices called the “3 Ws” work to stop the spread of COVID-19; however, they are most effective when we all do them together,” Brake said.
“We don’t want to discourage people from gatherings, we just want everyone to be safe.”
As of June 23, there have been 53,605 cases of COVID-19 confirmed in North Carolina. There are now 149 confirmed cases in Warren County, with five deaths and 120 people who have recovered.
Although the number of cases in Warren County is low compared to other counties, these numbers can and will increase if the prescribed precautionary practices are not followed.
In terms of contact tracing, the WCHD accomplishes this with in-house staff. To date they have contacted some 600 people to inform them of the potential for contracting the virus and monitoring symptoms.
Both Brake and Hall urge residents to answer or return calls from the health department. Just because one might get a call does not mean he or she has the virus, but may be at greater risk for contracting or spreading it.
The novel Coronavirus spreads mainly from person to person through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Spread is more likely when people are in close contact with one another. The virus can also live on surfaces such as countertops and doorknobs for a few hours to a few days. It can also be transmitted if someone touches it and then touches their mouth, nose or eyes.
Symptoms and testing
The Warren County Health Department has listed the symptoms associated with the coronavirus. They can vary widely from person to person, and can mimic those of the flu. But the health department recommends that anyone who has had contact with a known COVID case, or is experiencing any of these symptoms should contact their healthcare provider to determine what these symptoms might suggest, and get tested.
The symptoms of COVID-19 include: a temperature of 100.4 or higher; shortness of breath; cough and chills; loss of taste or smell; sweats, abdominal pain or cramps; muscle pain or body aches, fatigue, vomiting, or diarrhea; headache, congestion or runny nose.
Hope Regional Medical Clinic in Warrenton recently held a free drive-thru event, testing 180 people, and plans to hold another soon. For those without insurance, the test costs $175 ($90 for the office visit and $85 for the test.) Those with insurance are just charged their co-payment. Residents can also call WCHD at 252-257-1185 with questions about testing or to find a testing site.
Quarantine and isolation
The health department will routinely call individuals who are a close contact as well as those who test positive for COVID-19 to monitor their symptoms and to determine when they no longer need to be in quarantine or isolation.
For those who have had close contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, the CDC and WCHD strongly recommend staying home for 14 days after the last contact; to check temperature twice daily and watch for symptoms; and staying away from people at a higher risk for contracting a more severe case.
Those who are sick, and either think or know they have the virus, are advised to stay home until after three days with no fever, symptoms have improved, and 10 days have passed since symptoms first appeared.
If tested positive but not showing symptoms, stay home until after 10 days have passed since the positive test. And if living with others, stay in a specific sick room area away from other people or pets and use a separate bathroom if possible.
Dr. Brake said North Carolina has tried to let the data drive decisions about opening the state back up for business.
"We want people to know that going into Phase 2, called “safer at home” doesn't mean people should not continue to stay home if they don't have to be out," she said. "This is especially so for people in high risk populations, those 65 and older."
Both Brake and Hall insist that good hygiene in general and hand washing in particular is critical in preventing exposure to and spread of the virus.
In addition, they also say the healthier you are the better chance you have of fighting off the virus. They recommend maintaining a healthy lifestyle and not missing doctor's appointments. Also, wearing a face covering when you’re out in public will help protect others from getting the virus.
However, they believe we’ll continue to see more cases as time goes on and testing increases.
“The more we can do to prevent the spread the better we’ll be in being able to keep our count down,” Brake said. "I think we'll be here for a while until we have a vaccine.
Until then, we should all continue to practice those three W's to stay safe.”
In order to support the COVID-19 response, the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) is allocating $35 million in federal funding to local health departments. Counties will be able to use these funds to support COVID-19 staffing, infection control, testing and tracing, IT infrastructure and data sharing and visualization. The Warren County Health Department will receive $149,803.
“Our local health departments are critical partners with the state as we fight this virus, and this funding will help them continue and expand their important work,” said Gov. Roy Cooper in a press release.
According to NCDHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen, “Since the start of the pandemic our local health departments have been working around the clock to protect their communities and slow the spread of the virus. These funds continue to support their ability to address the overwhelming demands they are facing.”
Prisons to test everyone
State prison officials have initiated a plan to test all 31,000 offenders for COVID-19. “We’ve done some mass testing at prisons with significant outbreaks of this awful virus, but now we are going to test them all, the entire offender population,” said Commissioner of Prisons Todd Ishee, in a press release.
This testing of the population is estimated to require at least 60 days to complete at a projected cost of more than $3.3 million.