By Catharin Shepard •
Staff writer •
\As of Tuesday, officials had identified 12 known cases of coronavirus associated with Hoke County, though the situation was changing quickly.
Some of the patients had already recovered by the time doctors received the positive test results. It’s taking anywhere from 10 to 14 days for doctors to get test results back, due to the backlog of samples still pending processing in North Carolina.
Hoke’s known positive cases, Health Department Director Helene Edwards said, include: (bullet point list)
- The first local patient who tested positive March 18, and has recovered
- Two Fort Bragg/military-connected patients with Hoke home addresses
- A contractor working in New York who has a Hoke address, but has not been back to the county in a while
- A healthcare worker who tested positive April 1, and has recovered
- An 18-year-old and a 66-year-old who separately traveled to New York in early March, and have recovered
- A man who caught the virus in New York and also infected his pregnant wife, they are doing well
- A patient who became ill March 24 and received a positive test result Friday, and has already recovered
- A contractor on Fort Bragg who was tested at Womack and has two colleagues on Fort Bragg who are also sick, who is doing well
- A veteran who tested positive at the VA medical center, who is isolated and doing well
Since March 3, the state has identified more than 3,200 known cases of the illness across all of North Carolina. By Tuesday afternoon, 46 people in the state had died of causes related to COVID-19. Another 354 people with the infectious disease remained hospitalized in North Carolina. Health officials had identified cases of COVID-19 in 90 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties.
Hoke County Emergency Management continues working with local health providers to make sure they have the personal protective equipment (PPE) and other supplies, coordinator Andrew Jacobs said Monday. Emergency Management is also working to prepare for an anticipated “surge” in the number of cases, forecast to hit the state later this month.
“We’re working with all of our partners – our EMS, firefighters, first responders, and our hospital partners both Cape Fear Valley Hoke and FirstHealth. Aside from that we’ve been preparing for the surge everyone’s been talking about,” Jacobs said. “We’ve looked at toward the end of April for that to be the week when we can really expect to see COVID-19, not only in Hoke County but in North Carolina, start to bring more patients into the hospitals, start seeing more positive cases, and we want to make sure we have those resources as much as possible inside Hoke County so we’re not behind the gun when that happens.”
PPE is a “huge commodity everywhere” at the moment, Jacobs said. The county department has been getting PPE and other supplies like disinfectant from a variety of sources, including North Carolina Emergency Management and private vendors. The state only received about a third of the supplies it requested from the Strategic National Stockpile before the stockpile’s reserves ran out due to the demand from across the country, North Carolina Emergency Management Director Mike Sprayberry said last week in a press conference.
“We are being strategic with our reuse of masks and things we can reuse and give some longevity to the response with the PPE we have in hand,” Jacobs said.
Hospitals and officials are looking at the possible surge from different angles to try and prepare for what could happen.
“If we have this inundation of patients, we’re going to have to take care of our normal patients that might have broken an arm or had a heart attack, the emergencies that happen every day,” Jacobs said. “Those people still need hospital care and we’re going to be filling our hospitals also with COVID-19 patients…so we need to make sure we have ample space with isolation and all those different things, and account for if and when it does happen.”
The situation is something that’s changing day to day, and officials are working hard to keep on top of things, Jacobs said.
“This emergency, this incident is being very fluid. We’re seeing a lot of different things come out, whether it be directives from the CDC, executive orders, things from our local officials our governor and our president, but what we also have to remain mindful of here in Hoke County is other disasters still go on, other events are able to happen,” he said.
With hurricane season starting in a few months, the department is also preparing to be ready to respond to any storms that come through North Carolina.
Everyday life changes
Hoke County, like the rest of the state, remains under Gov. Roy Cooper’s stay-at-home executive order until at least April 30. Under the order, most people should stay at home except to perform essential work, buy food or medicine or to provide care for another person.
Hoke County and city of Raeford government offices remain open but have locked their doors to the public, with some departments operating by appointment only. For a full list of local department updates, visit the county’s website at readyhoke.gov. The city is posting updates at raefordcity.gov.
Schools are out until at least May 15. Hoke County Schools continues providing mobile learning and meals delivered to bus stops across the county.
Many businesses are shut down due to the governor’s executive orders, and unemployment claims across the state topped 300,000 in just a few weeks, putting a strain on the benefits application system. Officials urged people facing unemployment to apply for unemployment insurance. Even people who are still employed but have lost hours at work due to COVID-19 may qualify for support under amended guidelines put in place by the governor during the emergency.
Many churches have postponed services, or are trying different methods to stay in contact with congregations. Hoke Sheriff Hubert Peterkin posted a Facebook video last week to ask citizens not to participate even in parking lot services in order to comply with the stay-at-home order. Peterkin suggested church leaders use video streams instead.
Businesses in Hoke County have stepped up to help out. Last week, Butterball donated more than $2,400 in PPE supplies to FirstHealth of the Carolinas, Cape Fear Valley Health and Autumn Care in Raeford. Hoke County officials helped coordinate the donation.
Trish Salvadia, complex safety manager for Butterball, said employees acted quickly when the company got the request for donations of PPE.
“We have great people, great support. As soon as the call came in, we just got right on it and made sure we could contribute in some way to the county,” Salvadia said last Wednesday during a press conference.
The products included gloves, masks and gowns. The Hoke County Board of Commissioners thanked the company for the donation.
“We believe that our citizens are number one. We want to keep them safe and do all that we can to keep them safe,” Commission Chairman James Leach said. “This donation comes from Butterball, it is a blessing for Hoke County and it’s an honor for us to be able to have this donation come from one of our local businesses. When the time comes, everyone knows to step up. That is a great thing.”
Dr. Roxie Wells, president of Cape Fear Valley’s Hoke hospital, and Tara Ledford, FirstHealth of the Carolinas director of corporate communications, accepted the donations on behalf of the hospitals. A representative from Autumn Care was also present to accept the donation.
This week, Mountaire Farms in Lumber Bridge donated more than 11,000 pounds of chicken to help feed first responders and nurses and doctors. (See the story elsewhere.)
Nonprofits, county departments and caring individuals have also stepped up by providing meals and support to those affected by the virus outbreak.
Additionally, to help assist individuals during the crisis, the governor issued an executive order temporarily banning utility companies including electric, gas, water and sewer providers from shutting off services due to nonpayment. Several providers including Hoke County, Raeford, Duke Energy and Lumbee River EMC had already pledged to temporarily halt cutoffs. Those bills still accrue and must be paid.
Hoke gets a D- in social distancing
Data from cell phone activity showed Hoke’s residents haven’t been cutting back on their movement enough during the stay-at-home order, according to unacast.com. Unacast created an online “scoreboard” map comparing communities’ activity before and after COVID-19. All of North Carolina earned a grade of D- this week, with only a 20-40 percent decrease in average mobility based on distance traveled. That represents a less than 55 percent decrease in non-essential visits, earning the county’s citizens an F in that category, according to the website.
Some counties in North Carolina like Watauga and Swain earned better grades, while others like Durham County where the outbreak sickened more people earned grades in the C to B- range.
Google broke down the numbers further in a mobility report based on cell phone data. From February 16 to March 29, Hoke saw a decrease of 14 percent in movement around retail and recreation and a decrease of 29 percent in movement around workplaces, according to the data. Meanwhile, the amount of time spent at home went up by about 14 percent, and time spent at grocery stores and pharmacies went up by about three percent.
A study by the University of Texas at Austing, quoted in The New York Times, estimates Hoke County has a 95 percent chance of community spread of the virus—an epidemic, they say.
A team of health researchers with Duke University, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and other entities released a forecast model of hospital capacity this week that encouraged the state to continue social distancing measures to further slow the spread of COVID-19. Continuing with the precautions could help prevent hospitals from being slammed with an overwhelming surge of sick patients needing intensive care.