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County percent positive rate too high at 8.1%; Halloween could bring increase

County percent positive rate too high at 8.1%; Halloween could bring increase

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WENTWORTH — Rockingham County is outpacing the state average with a COVID-19 infection rate of 8.1%, according to county health department officials.

As the state and nation see COVID-19 numbers skyrocket to the highest since the start of the pandemic, the county of 91,000 recorded 147 new cases over the past four days, continuing a steep increase in infections over the last month.

Statewide, infection rates popped up from about 6.6% last week to 7.1% on Tuesday, well above the recommended 5% or lower community percent positive rate considered safe by public health experts. 

And the numbers are particularly troubling on the eve of Halloween when children and adults alike will be more likely to break social distancing guidelines in the pursuit of candy, health care providers and officials worry.

To get an idea of the heightened risk, consider county health statistics showing that since Oct. 16, when cases numbered 1,644, the infection rate here has grown by 18.8%.

And hospitalizations continue to be the highest since the start of the global health crisis in March. Last week saw 36 sick inpatients, while 39 are in hospital beds this week.

Nearly 1,200 North Carolinians were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Tuesday, state health statistics showed.

With such a pre-Halloween threat, the Centers for Disease Control has issued guidelines for parents to practice to stem spread that could result from door-to-door trick-or-treating: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/halloween.html.

Local family practitioner Jason Vaughn of Eden cautions parents to keep track of the friends their children come in contact with on Halloween so that notifying exposed children will be easier if anyone comes down with COVID-19 after the holiday.

"This is not about living in fear. In contrast, it is about taking logical precautions to feel more secure,'' said Vaughn, a nurse practitioner at James B. Austin Health Center in Eden.
 
"I would also ask parents to check kids' temperatures and (look) for other symptoms. Washing hands, or at least sanitizing, continues to be very important. It is hard to keep kids social distancing and out of each others' faces, but it's still really important to do so,'' Vaughn said.
 
Some strategies that can preserve fun while promoting safety include:
 
*Mark the sidewalk with chalk waiting stations placed 6-feet apart for little ones seeking treats.
 
*Instead of handing out treats, homeowners can place candy in individual bags on trays on the porch.
 
*Look out at the tots in costume from behind a storm door to keep germs out.
 
* Create a line on your lawn or near your porch where children can wait one at a time for a candy "toss'' — a la Mardi Gras.
 
* Organize a small gathering of well children and adults for a cake walk. Draw numbers and place 6 feet apart along a wide circle. Ask kids to start the game on one numbered block and to walk the ring as spooky theme music plays. When the music stops, the child on the winning number square wins a cake or cupcake. 
 
* Hang treats, such as candy apples or bagged snacks, on lower tree limbs or a clothes line for little ones to grab.
 
Susan Young, the county's interim public health director, said the state is continuing to help her staff of three with the job of contact tracing some 7,000 Rockingham Countians who may have been exposed to someone with the virus.

Young reminds the public that contact tracers handle all health information confidentially and do not divulge the names of infected individuals or share the names of their contacts.

And Young encourages people to answer all phone calls, even those from unfamiliar numbers, in case a contact tracer attempts to get in touch.

Infection rates continue to grow in Rockingham because of community spread, health officials explain. When individuals refuse to wear masks and social distance, or they wear masks incorrectly, they increase the incidence of infection.

And community spread, such as transmission that might occur in a supermarket or a large gathering, is difficult for contact tracers to manage because of all of the unknown people exposed, experts say.

Guard yourself and your family against the flu, to prevent co-infection of flu and COVID-19, Young cautions, noting she has already seen one such case of double illness.

Young and state health officials further urge the public to download a public health phone app: SlowCOVIDNC. The app can alert you if you have been exposed to an individual who has tested positive.

Remember, too, that dining inside restaurants right now may be risky, some medical professionals caution.

Dr. Stephen Luking of Reidsville said some studies show that COVID-19 patients are twice as likely as non-infected people to have recently dined inside a restaurant.

The Rockingham County Health Department continues to provide a drive-up flu shot service at the Governmental Center in Wentworth on Tuesdays and Thursdays, between 9 a.m. and 4:30 p.m., Young said. People with insurance coverage should bring insurance cards. Shots will cost $30 for those who are uninsured, but Young said the department would work with individuals who cannot afford the fee.

In Rockingham, 1,189, or 60.8%, of the county’s patients have recovered since the start of the pandemic. And 698, or 35.7%, are home recuperating.

The county of about 91,000 has conducted 26, 437 novel coronavirus tests to date, records show.

Infectious disease experts caution that there may be many more infected patients than are tested. They forecast that for every known positive case of COVID-19, there are likely 10-20 times more. And a high percentage of cases — between 25-40% — are likely asymptomatic, meaning a person who is ill and highly contagious may not show symptoms of the disease.

Health stats show 1,110 of the county's coronavirus patients are over 40 years old, while 793 are below. Ages were not specified for 50 patients.

Statewide, 261,742 people had contracted COVID-19 and 4,170 had died as of Tuesday.

Those who suspect they might be experiencing symptoms of COVID-19 should call their primary care provider to discuss their health so appropriate steps can be taken to protect themselves and others. Testing sites are available throughout the county.

Find more information at www.rockinghamcountydhhs.org.

 

Contact Susie C. Spear at sspear@rockinghamnow.com, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.

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