• By Catharin Shepard •
• Staff writer •
Another meat processing facility in the Hoke County area is experiencing an outbreak of COVID-19, according to the Hoke County Health Department.
Two cases identified last week made Butterball the third food production company with local operations now dealing with an outbreak of the virus. One of the employees lives in Hoke County, and the second lives outside of Hoke County.
Having two coronavirus cases at a single location of a meat processing plant is considered an outbreak, according to the state Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS). Smithfield Foods and Mountaire Farms are also dealing with outbreaks at facilities in Hoke County and multiple other locations.
So far there were nine people in Hoke who work at Mountaire Farms, and 12 people who live in Hoke and work at Smithfield Foods, who tested positive for coronavirus. Many of the other known COVID-19 cases in recent weeks include the spouses and children of those employees who have also tested positive.
Hoke County was up to 154 total known cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to the county Health Department. That number includes all of the positive cases since Hoke’s first known case March 18. It also includes people who are actively ill with the virus, and those who have recovered.
It’s taking about 14 days for people with mild symptoms of COVID-19 to recover, according to state health officials. It’s closer to 28 days for people with more serious symptoms, and who have had to be hospitalized for treatment.
So far, no one in Hoke County has died of the coronavirus, although eight people were admitted to hospitals for treatment. In all of North Carolina, more than 660 people have died of coronavirus-related causes. Another 500 people were in hospitals across the state this week, receiving care for the illness.
The majority of the people in Hoke County who were ill with coronavirus in March and April have since recovered, according to local health officials. The Hoke County Health Department did not have an exact figure of the number of people who have recovered, but staff members are calling weekly to check on those infected. More than 11,600 of the over 20,000 people in North Carolina who tested positive for COVID-19 have since recovered, according to the NCDHHS.
Hoke has had four known outbreaks so far: Mountaire Farms, Smithfield Foods, Butterball and Canyon Hills child behavioral health treatment facility. Those four outbreaks, and directly associated cases account for more than 50 of the known cases in Hoke since the start of the pandemic. All of the 23 people involved in the Canyon Hills outbreak have since recovered, according to the Hoke County Health Department.
• Cases at Burlington •
Another local company also appeared to be dealing with cases of COVID-19. At least one person who lives in Hoke County and works at Burlington has tested positive for COVID-19, according to Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards.
A spokesperson for Burlington said in an email that the company had informed its employees about the situation, and taken preventative measures to ensure safety.
“We have communicated to employees that we recently had several employees to test positive for COVID-19. None of the cases are related or had direct contact within the plant and appear to related to exposures within the community,” an email from Dolores Sides said.
Edwards said the Health Department has heard complaints from several people through the COVID-19 phone number alleging that there were “many” people with COVID-19 at Burlington. Anonymous tips sent to the News-Journal likewise raised concerns about multiple cases at the company, and how Burlington was handling the situation.
The company is checking temperatures, maintaining strict cleaning and sanitation guidelines and doing its own internal contact tracing, among other measures, Sides wrote in an email.
It’s possible other employees at Burlington who have COVID-19 live in other counties, and so have not shown up on Hoke’s official tally, Edwards said.
• Hoke’s recent cases •
A number of other recent cases didn’t show any connection to one of the known outbreaks.
The most recently identified cases of COVID-19 in Hoke County include:
•A 47-year-old woman who became ill May 8 and tested positive May 14 at Womack Army Medical Center
•A 31-year-old man who became ill May 8 and tested positive May 14 at Southeastern Regional Medical Center
•A 36-year-old woman who became ill May 12 and tested positive May 14 at Tri-County Health Center, and who works at Smithfield Foods
•A 47-year-old man who became ill May 11 and tested positive May 13 at FirstHealth Hoke
•A 39-year-old woman who became ill May 8 and tested positive May 13 at FirstHealth Hoke
•A 41-year-old woman who tested positive May 14 at the Moore County Health Department
•A 29-year-old man who became ill May 6 and tested positive May 13 at NextCare
•A 20-year-old man who became ill May 10 and tested positive May 13 at FirstHealth Hoke
•A 72-year-old man who became ill May 2 and tested positive May 5 at FirstHealth Hoke, and was hospitalized at FirstHealth Hoke
Hoke County could see an increase in the number of known cases over the next few weeks, due to increased testing efforts through the end of May. Free drive-through testing is now available by appointment at Don Steed Elementary School. (See story, page ___).
• Local government •
Everything is still “status quo” for the city of Raeford local government, with services continuing as usual while city buildings are locked. Depending on how things go, the city could start to relax some restrictions next month, City Manager Dennis Baxley said.
“We hope to open June 1, we’ll see what the governor’s phase two is going to look like and make a decision based on that,” he said.
While the city’s parks and playgrounds are still shut down, the walking trail at McLauchlin is open if people wish to use it. People should still maintain six feet of distance from one another, wear a mask and wash their hands. The park bathrooms are closed.
The county’s park facilities are also closed until further notice, with summer camps likely canceled for the year. The county is offering updates on programs and department contact information on its website, readyhoke.org.
The county also continues providing services as usual, with buildings locked and visits allowed by appointment only in some cases. The county has been working on installing plexiglass barriers – some of which are permanent in nature – at counter service areas and employee desks.
The county also plans on purchasing and installing body temperature-sensing cameras at the Hoke County Courthouse, Courthouse Annex and Department of Social Services, County Manager Letitia Edens and Hoke Emergency Management Coordinator Andrew Jacobs said Monday. The heat-sensitive thermal cameras, which cost about $4,000 each, will keep employees at those offices from having to individually take the temperature of each person who enters. Special funding for COVID-19 needs
The county also intends to use some of its federal COVID-19 funding to open small $5,000 loans for local businesses, officials discussed Monday night at the county commission meeting. Details on that will be forthcoming once the county receives the funds.