WENTWORTH — As surrounding counties, including urban areas like Guilford and Forsyth, held their COVID-19 infection rates relatively steady, Rockingham continued to watch its rate soar to nearly twice the acceptable level.
Ranked 11th highest in North Carolina's list of county infection rankings, Rockingham, with about 91,000 residents, reached a 9.7% positive rate on Friday. The number means that 9.7% of those individuals tested in the county on that day were found to be positive for the novel coronavirus.
A percent positive rate is a daily snapshot of the prominence of disease in a region, and it can fluctuate throughout the week. And indeed, Rockingham's rate was around 6.9 about a week ago.
But for most of this week, the level held above 9%, state and county health records showed. Public health experts urge communities to hit a safety goal of 5% or less — a rate considered manageable. Such a low infection rate shows a community has relative control over the spread of the disease.
Sobering case counts came in over the past week with an increase of 183 cases between Oct. 30 and Nov. 2 — about 45 new cases discovered each of those days. By Friday, cases numbered 2,296, marking a 277-case jump in one week, the county's highest weekly total yet. That weekly increase translates to a 13.7% hike.
And since three weeks ago when cases numbered 1,644 on Oct. 16, new infections have soared by 40%, according to public health records.
In neighboring Stokes County, citizens seem to have the disease in better control with a percent positive rate on Friday of 4.8%, according to statistics from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
In Guilford and Forsyth counties, the positive rates on Friday were 6.7% and 6.1%, respectively, while the statewide average hovered a bit above at 7.1%.
Some nearby rural counties were struggling like Rockingham, with Surry reporting a 10.3% positive rate and Caswell at 9.1% on Friday.
Meanwhile, the nation has reported record numbers of new daily COVID-19 infections with counts surpassing 100,000 on Thursday and Friday.
The county's high rate makes it ever more vital that citizens plan carefully for the upcoming Thanksgiving and Christmas holidays, cautioned Susan Young, the county's interim public health director.
While the state technically allows a maximum of 25 people to gather indoors, Young said that most homes don't have near enough room to safely accommodate that number.
So for Thanksgiving, she recommends setting the table on the deck or on the lawn and enjoying fresh air in the Indian Summer sun.
And there are plenty of special considerations to keep in mind when hosting a holiday gathering, Young said, urging hosts to talk candidly with guests before an event to make certain they are feeling well and have not been exposed to the virus.
Face masks are a must for indoor gatherings, as well — even when interacting with family members, Young said during this week's public service broadcast, "Rockingham 411."
And face masks are advised for wear outdoors where social distancing is still key.
Another tip Young suggested: delegating all cooking to one individual to avoid potential contamination of food by multiple sources.
She also recommended limiting items that may be touched by multiple people. For example, a host might remove or sanitize serving spoons often. Hosts may also providing sanitizer at the head of a buffet line, direct buffet traffic in one direction to avoid guests hovering over food, use disposable dinnerwear, and kick-pedal trashcans.
For guests over age 65 and considered at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, hosts should plan to take extra safety and social distancing precautions, Young reminded.
Find more information on safe holiday entertaining at: https://rockinghamcountync.municipalone.com/files/documents/InterimGuidanceforPrivateSocialGathnews134081030102120-050939PMa.pdf
Public health and infectious disease experts warn that infection rates increase exponentially when people do not wear masks and practice simple social distancing guidelines, experts say. One reason: some 40% of people with COVID-19 may not know they have it because they feel no symptoms. These asymptomatic patients are just as infectious as obviously ill patients.
The county has recently seen a large number of cases associated with family gatherings, Young said, noting masks and social distancing are a must when interacting with anyone who does not live in your household.
The week's highest numbers of new cases were in Reidsville, Eden, and Madison-Mayodan, Young said.
Sixteen county residents were hospitalized with the virus on Friday and deaths numbered 29.
Free drive-up testing is now available at the county health department in Wentworth, Young said. Anyone who wants to be tested may go to the Governmental Center location on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 8 a.m.- noon, and 12:30 p.m.-5p.m. Tests typically take about 10 minutes and insurance is not required. Appointments are not required, but service may be quicker with an appointment. To arrange, call the health department at (336) 342-8100.
State health officials continue to help Young's staff with contact tracing thousands of locals who may have been exposed to someone with the virus, Young has said.
She reminds that tracers handle all health information confidentially and do not divulge the names of infected individuals or their contacts.
Monitor phones for calls from unfamiliar numbers in case a contact tracer attempts to get in touch, Young said.
County residents should also get flu shots immediately and prevent co-infection of flu and COVID-19, Young said, noting she has already seen one such case of double illness.
Health officials also 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.
In Rockingham, 1,390, or 60.5%, of the county’s patients have recovered since the start of the pandemic. And 858, or 37.4%, are home recuperating.
The county has conducted 31, 194 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 1,307 of the county's coronavirus patients are over 40 years old, while 938 are below. Ages were not specified for 51 patients.
Statewide, 285,661 people had contracted COVID-19 and 4,548 had died as of Friday.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, (336) 349-4331, ext. 6140 and follow @SpearSusie_RCN on Twitter.