By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke County was up to 120 known cases of coronavirus Friday, as increased testing capacity continued making it easier for doctors to identify patients with COVID-19.
The most recently identified cases of COVID-19 in Hoke County include:
- A family of five including a 5-year-old girl, a 7-year-old boy, a 12-year-old boy and their parents, a 38-year-old man who works at Mountaire Farms and his spouse, a 34-year-old woman; the family became ill May 2 and all tested positive May 6 at the Hoke County Health Department
- 38-year-old man who tested positive May 7 at Tri-County Health Center, who works at Smithfield Foods
- 46-year-old man who became ill May 3 and tested positive May 7 at FirstHealth Hoke, who works at Purdue packing plant
- 20-year-old man and 25-year-old man, siblings, who became ill May 5 and tested positive May 6 at Goshen; they are the sons of a married couple who previously tested positive
- 54-year-old woman who became ill April 28 and tested positive May 5 at Southeastern Regional Medical Center
- 53-year-old woman who became ill April 25 and tested positive May 5 at Southeastern Regional Medical Center
- 47-year-old woman who became ill April 15 and tested positive May 5 at Goshen
- 51-year-old man who became ill May 2 and tested positive May 5 at FirstHealth Hoke, who works at Smithfield Foods
There have not been any deaths from COVID-19 in Hoke County. Seven people from Hoke are currently hospitalized with the illness. Those hospitalized include a 63-year-old man who developed trouble breathing, and a 28-year-old man who also developed problems breathing.
Tracking and tracing
Most of the recently identified cases in Hoke County are people who work at meat processing plants, and their family members.
The largest outbreak in the county is at the Canyon Hills child behavioral treatment facility, where 14 residents and nine employees tested positive. The residents were asymptomatic when they tested positive April 24, and are still doing well. Six of the employees live outside of Hoke, according to the Health Department.
The total of 120 known cases of COVID-19 in Hoke includes active cases, and people who tested positive and have since recovered. Most of the people in Hoke who became ill with COVID-19 in March and the first weeks of April should have all recovered by now, Hoke Health Director Helene Edwards said Thursday.
While the department didn’t have an exact updated number of how many people in Hoke have recovered from COVID-19, staff members are calling weekly to check on those infected.
“As far as recovery, all the cases from two weeks ago should be recovered. Status checks are being made weekly,” Edwards said.
The Health Department tracks the number of cases in Hoke County by using the patient’s permanent home address.
Testing capacity expands
The number of new infections is still going up. That could be related to better access to testing. Over the last few weeks, North Carolina doubled the number of COVID-19 tests processed every day, according to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Director Dr. Mandy Cohen.
The state had its single highest reported number of new cases this week, jumping to 13,868 known cases of COVID-19. So far, 527 people in North Carolina have died from COVID-19 related causes, NCDHHS reported. More than 500 others are hospitalized.
It’s become easier for patients in Hoke County to get tested for COVID-19 if their doctor says they need testing, Edwards said.
“Yes, testing is becoming easier for people who need testing. With more commercial lab companies testing, the results are available within 24-36 hours and contacts of positive cases are being tested too,” she said in an email.
Supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) at the Health Department are currently in good shape, Edwards said.
New job numbers released Friday show the unemployment rate across the United States went from 4.4 percent to 14.7 percent due to the pandemic. More than 20.5 million jobs were lost, according to the U.S. Labor Department. Experts called it the highest level of unemployment since the Great Depression.
There was a silver lining: up to 75 percent of the job losses in April could be temporary. That includes temporarily furloughed employees, and people who work at businesses that could reopen.
More than 1.1 million people in North Carolina have filed for unemployment since the pandemic hit in March. Most of those claims are due to people losing work because of the COVID-19 crisis.
It’s hard to say how many people in Hoke County are unemployed because of the coronavirus. Data for individual North Carolina counties isn’t available yet. State officials said they have data processors working on the numbers.
Reopening at Phase One
North Carolina was set to start the first phase of a three-phase reopening plan Friday at 5 p.m. Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order this week relaxing some of the earlier restrictions.
The stay-at-home order is still in effect, but now more businesses are open. People can leave their homes to shop at any open store.
“It’s still better to stay home if you can,” Cooper said in a live-streamed press briefing Friday.
The governor’s order also allowed state parks to reopen. Local governments can still choose to keep city or county park facilities closed at their discretion.
Gatherings are still restricted to 10 or fewer people. Restaurants are still take-out or delivery only. Many businesses such as movie theaters and nail and hair salons are still closed.
Any place where people sit or stand in place for more than 10 minutes greatly increases the chances of spreading the illness, state health officials said.
(See the executive order here.)
Cooper: “A careful, modest step”
The state based the timing of the reopening on four data points officials are tracking. Those data points include the number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, and the percentage of positive tests to negative tests.
“The indicators we laid out two weeks ago, the data and the science, show that we can (start phase one),” Cooper said.
The first reopening phase is a “careful, modest step,” the governor said. If the numbers continue in the right direction, the state could proceed into phase two, and then phase three of the reopening.
Cooper shared stories of some of the people in North Carolina who have died from COVID-19. The reported numbers have real people’s lives behind them, he said.
“As N.C. moves into phase one today, I want everyone to remember what those numbers mean. Every time our state confirms another death, another family and another community descends into mourning,” the governor said.
“As we make decisions and debate issues surrounding this virus, we must realize each number represents the death of a real person. COVID-19 is a lethal threat, it is a cruel virus, causing grave harm in otherwise healthy people…taking our everyday heroes away from us.”
Health systems ease restrictions
FirstHealth of the Carolinas announced it plans to resume non-time-sensitive surgeries starting Monday, May 11.
“Patient safety will continue to be top priority as services resume,” FirstHealth chief medical officer Dr. John Krahnert said in a statement. “FirstHealth paused non-time sensitive surgeries in preparation for a potential surge in COVID-19 patients and concerns around hospital bed capacity, staff resources and personal protective equipment (PPE) availability.”
“Fortunately, the surge was averted, and like many hospitals across the state, FirstHealth believes they have the equipment, staff and capacity to resume non-time sensitive surgeries and procedures,” FirstHealth of the Carolinas said in a statement Thursday.
Visitors are still not allowed at FirstHealth facilities, with very few exceptions in certain situations. Those include a parent accompanying a child patient, a companion in the emergency department or end-of-life visits on a case-by-case basis.
Cape Fear Valley Healthcare announced that Friday at 5 p.m., it would begin allowing one “care companion” to accompany patients in the emergency department, once the patient is placed in a private treatment room. Previously, the hospital system did not allow patients to have anyone with them in the ED.
The companion has to wear a mask and must wait outside in the car until the person is in a private room. All other visitor restrictions are still in place with very few exceptions on a case-by-case basis for end-of-life visits and support for laboring mothers. The companion can’t go with the patient if the person is admitted to an inpatient unit.