• By Catharin Shepard •
• Staff writer •
A person who lived in Hoke County and tested positive for COVID-19 has died, according to the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.
The person died due to complications related to an existing medical condition, according to Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards.
The Hoke County COVID-19 related death happened May 21 at UNC Hospitals, Edwards said.
“The person was COVID-19 positive at the beginning of the May and again on 5/19/20 when admitted to UNC-Hospitals; however, death was caused by medical complications due to a pre-existing medical condition,” she wrote in an email Tuesday.
Officials did not release the identity or further details about the person.
Hoke County was up to 201 known cases of COVID-19 Tuesday. That number includes active cases, and people who have recovered since the county identified its first known case March 18. At least 125 of the 201 known cases are out of isolation orders and are presumed recovered, according to the Hoke County Health Department.
Some of the recently identified cases in Hoke County included a 44-year-old woman who tested positive May 20, a 47-year-old woman who tested positive May 19, a 42-year-old woman who tested positive May 20, a 43-year-old woman who tested positive May 20 and a teenage boy who tested positive May 17.
There were four known outbreaks associated with the county, with at least two or more cases of COVID-19 at those locations. The known outbreaks identified included Smithfield Foods, Mountaire Farms, Butterball and Canyon Hills Treatment Facility.
The Health Department continues conducting contact tracing for active cases. Staff members at the Health Department are calling to check in with patients on a weekly basis.
A number of the cases identified in May apparently resulted from family members contracting the virus from each other.
At least seven people from Hoke County with COVID-19 were hospitalized with the illness since the start of the outbreak.
<02>Free testing Friday, Saturday
<01>Free drive-through COVID-19 testing continues this Friday and Saturday at Don Steed Elementary, by appointment only.
To schedule an appointment, go online to www.harristeeter.com/covidtesting and sign up. There is no cost for the test.
The FDA-approved test is done as a self-administered nasal swab. Results should be back within 72 hours of the test. The drive-through testing checked over 300 people in its first few days earlier this month. Numbers weren’t immediately available for the recent weekend testing, but Edwards noted the site hoped to test upwards of 500 people over two days.
Testing is done in drive-through fashion, by appointment only, at Don Steed Elementary School. The school is located at 800 Philippi Church Road. Hoke residents don’t have to meet any qualifications for the free testing.
Testing will be available Friday, May 29; and Saturday, May 30. Testing runs from 10 a.m.-4 p.m. on available days, by appointment only.
<02>Phase Two of reopening begins
<01>The stay-at-home order lifted, and some local businesses got the okay to start reopening – with restrictions – as part of the statewide reopening plan, phase two.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper issued an executive order last week allowing the state to move into the second phase of reopening. The second phase went into effect Friday at the start of the Memorial Day weekend.
Restaurants can once again offer dine-in options, with reduced capacity. Barbershops and nail and hair salons can provide services to customers. The stay-at-home order is lifted, though officials still urge that residents are “Safer At Home.”
Under phase two, overnight camps and swimming pools are allowed to reopen with some restrictions in place. People can gather together for social purposes, as long as they don’t exceed the mass gathering limit of 10 people indoors and 25 people outdoors. The order also allows sporting and entertainment events to occur in large venues for broadcast to the public, although spectators are restricted to crowds of 10 indoors or 25 outdoors.
The prohibition on mass gatherings does not apply to the exercise of First Amendment rights, the governor’s order specified. Some churches in Hoke County advertised that they planned to resume services this weekend.
Some businesses remain closed under phase two of the reopening. Movie theaters, bars and nightclubs, museums, bowling alleys, amusement parks, bingo parlors and gyms are still closed by executive order. Visitation at long-term care facilities is still restricted.
People who are sick should stay home, and others who go out should still wear a face covering, wait six feet apart from other people and everyone should wash their hands frequently.
The move to phase two doesn’t mean North Carolina residents are safe from COVID-19, according to state officials. While enough key indicators are leveling or moving in the right direction to make the transition to the “Safer At Home Phase Two,” if those indicators move in the wrong direction, restrictions could go back into place.
“Despite this progress, COVID-19 remains a highly contagious virus and state officials continue to monitor key metrics,” the governor’s office said in an FAQ.
<02>Unemployment, business impacts still uncertain
<01>As the state moves into phase two of reopening, Hoke County Economic Development Director Will Wright is waiting to see how local businesses respond. While “a lot of them are hurt,” a lot of local companies were able to take advantage of small business protections.
“That really has been a lifesaver for a lot of them,” he said.
However, some new businesses in Hoke struggled to access those supports. Some weren’t able to qualify because there were stipulations they couldn’t meet, simply because they hadn’t been in business for very long.
“The new businesses that didn’t have a track record weren’t able to share what their income was in previous years,” Wright said. “I think it hit new businesses harder than old businesses.”
Wright said he hasn’t been able to see local unemployment data yet to determine how many people in Hoke suffered loss of work due to COVID-19. The state agency responsible for reporting those numbers hasn’t made the data available on a county level, although officials said more than 1 million people in North Carolina filed for unemployment in the last few months since the start of the pandemic.
“We do not have the unemployment numbers yet. The reporting on the county level has not been released yet,” Wright said. It’s making it more difficult to get a “big level picture” of the local impact, he said.
“In coming months we’ll know what the total impact was,” he said.
Still, the reopening in phase two is a positive sign for local businesses.
“Hopefully we’re over the hump, some of them are opening back up,” Wright said.
So far, he’s heard of one store – a thrift store on Main Street in Raeford – that may not be opening again.
In terms of overall economic development for Hoke County, while some deals in the works are still pending, the pandemic slowed things down, Wright said.
“I think it’s definitely going to slow them down. People have still been looking…we’ve still been getting inquiries, but nobody’s ready to sign their name on the dotted line right now,” he said.