Health officials investigating first COVID-19 case in Hoke County

Health officials investigating first COVID-19 case in Hoke County

Hoke Health Department Director Helene Edwards (at right) and medical director Dr. Karen Smith (at left) answer questions Wednesday at a press conference. Photo by Ed Clemente • By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • A Hoke County resident tested positive for the coronavirus COVID-19 and is in quarantine at home with his family, health officials said at a press conference Wednesday afternoon. It was the first positive case of the virus in Hoke County.

Officials are still working to trace the male patient’s steps to determine whether he may have exposed anyone else.

The patient became ill last week and made an appointment to see his doctor, Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards said.

“This person had symptoms and they had an appointment and they were checked on Monday, March 16 at FirstHealth of the Carolinas primary care. The COVID-19 test was done and the results came back this morning,” Edwards said. The Burlington-based LabCorp processed the test.

The health department is still working to identify people the patient may have come into contact with while contagious. That information was not available as of Wednesday afternoon.

“We are ongoing with the investigation work of case tracing, client tracing and contact tracing for the Hoke County area,” Edwards said.

The patient was at home while he was sick last week, the health department director said. Health care providers placed him under isolation orders Monday while waiting for the results of the COVID-19 test. He and his family remain in self-isolation at this time.

Officials did not release the patient’s name or age. Some information cannot be released due to patient privacy laws.

Officials don’t know yet whether the patient traveled out of state or out of the country because the test was done through a private laboratory, not the state lab, Edwards said.

“The state lab does have that requirement, if the person traveled, before we can submit the results in, but with LabCorp and the other commercial companies, that information is determined by the provider who ordered the test,” she said.

At this point, the public should be concerned about being in contact with anyone – not just people who are known to have COVID-19, Dr. Karen Smith said. Smith, the medical director for the Hoke County Health Department, urged people to be mindful that it can take days for a patient to show symptoms of a viral infection.

“We want you to be mindful that should you develop symptoms of fever, cough, lower respiratory symptoms meaning that of difficulty breathing, that you do need to contact your physician,” Smith said. “Viruses are very interesting in that there is an incubation period, so we can be perfectly well having a wonderful time at a wonderful gathering and then we find ourselves ill three to five days later.”

Hand washing and other preventative measures are important, Edwards said.

“We do encourage you to practice safe practices. If you’re sick, stay home. Make sure you’re hand washing, the 20 seconds of soap and water contact,” Edwards said.

Smith urged citizens to be vigilant at this time, and to heed warnings to avoid large gatherings.

“I must say the first thing we need to do is be vigilant of one another,” she said. “We also need to be mindful of those individuals who have already suffered, whether that be loss of life or illness in their families. We must protect our communities and protect our households. We are asking that individuals please follow the guidance that has been provided to us from our own county government as well as our state government.”

Smith also recommended citizens stay mindful of where they are getting their information about the coronavirus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website, cdc.gov, and the Hoke County readiness website are good sources on information about the virus, the doctor said.

At this time, people in North Carolina who are not showing symptoms are not being tested for the coronavirus.

“Testing has been a question asked by several, and the individuals to be tested are those who have fever and have been exposed to a confirmed case of COVID-19 within the past 14 day time frame. Or, if they have fever, lower respiratory as well as a negative rapid flu test, may be considered for testing,” Smith said. “It is not necessary for every healthy individual to be tested. The testing kits are available through the state laboratory, and they’re also available through commercial kits. If one has questions, now is the time to communicate with your personal physician.”

If you think you need to be tested, call your doctor first – don’t just show up at a doctor’s office or emergency room – and use patient portals to keep in touch with your physician as necessary, Smith advised. For people who don’t have a primary care doctor, most local doctors in Hoke County are accepting new patients at this time.

Two tablespoons of bleach in one gallon of water makes an effective formula to help clean homes, the medical director added, and asked residents not to hoard items.

 “Please do not use this as a time to gouge or buy items that are not necessary, and if you find yourself fortunate to have excessive amounts of hygiene items, share with your neighbor but continue to practice social distancing,” Smith said.

The county put restrictions in place this week to try and limit the spread of the coronavirus. While all departments are still open, the county limited access by staff and the general public, officials said in a statement.

“We are going to stay in compliance with state and federal guidelines as far as gatherings, we are also going to stay in guidelines and try and do our social distancing as far as our employees go,” County Manager Letitia Edens said Wednesday. “We are working closely with the sheriff’s department, emergency management and the health department, and we are on the phone and gathering information every day to ensure that I can make decisions about my employees, about who we can limit access to and what we can do to make sure that Hoke County remains safe and that we do the best things possible for this community.”

Hoke Commissioner Allen Thomas reiterated the board’s vote Monday to put measures into place to help Hoke residents.

“As of now no (county) water will be disconnected…individuals who are not able to pay, their water will not be disconnected during the time of this emergency,” Thomas said. “As you all know by restaurants and bars being closed, there are a lot of people who were employed two days ago who have received notice they are no longer employed. We want to make sure that we are on the front end of taking care of residents of this county.”

Additionally, the Meals on Wheels program for senior citizens has been expanded “dramatically” during the emergency, Thomas said. Previously, the program served about 100 seniors and had a waiting list for others hoping to access the meal delivery.

“Any senior citizen that you know who needs food and may be afraid to go out in public, because as we know this virus affects our seniors and most vulnerable more drastically, please let them know to contact Hoke County government so that we can get them the resources and food that they need.”

Currently there is not a cap on the number of senior citizens who can seek assistance from Meals on Wheels, Thomas said.

The commission also put a hold on pursuing foreclosures against any Hoke resident for unpaid taxes.

“There’s a question that will be asked, are we our brother’s keepers? The answer is yes, we take care of Hoke County,” Vice Chairman Harry Southerland said. “Our chairman has said it time and time again, that Hoke County is the greatest county in North Carolina, and for that reason, that’s why we are standing here today to let you all know that you are safe and you’re sound. We’ve got everyone behind you 100 percent.”

Hoke County Sheriff Hubert Peterkin said he stands united with local government and health agencies to offer assistance.

“The problem we’re facing, it’s not just one individual problem, one agency problem, this is a time when everyone needs to be united,” Peterkin said.

The county is providing updates at readyhoke.org.

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