Nursing home sees virus outbreak, county posts five more deaths

By Catharin Shepard •

Staff writer •

Hoke County High School has temporarily closed its doors after two staff members tested positive for COVID-19, according to school officials.

Additionally, the Hoke County Health Department reported five more local deaths due to coronavirus-related causes, and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) reported an outbreak at Autumn Care nursing home in Raeford.

Hoke High School shifted to online-only learning for all of its roughly 2,000 students last Wednesday after school leaders learned that two staff members had tested positive for coronavirus.

“These two cases are isolated to Hoke County High School and have not impacted any other schools in the district. Hoke County Schools’ district leaders have been in contact with the Hoke County Health Department and are following all guidelines and recommendations. While we believe there was minimal contact between the two staff members who tested positive and others in the school, we feel it is in the best interest of our students, staff, and community to err on the side of caution and pause face-to-face instruction at Hoke High,” the school system said in an announcement on its Facebook page September 16.

The two teachers who tested positive work in the same department, Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards said in an email.

One of the teachers was not around students at all, because they were under a 14-day quarantine period after being exposed to a known positive case of COVID-19 outside of the school, Edwards said. Health Department officials notified people who may have been in contact with the second teacher about getting tested for COVID-19.

The high school plans to resume the in-person classes for students on the hybrid two-day-a-week schedule starting September 28. The school is undergoing a deep clean in the meantime.

“We would like to thank our parents for continuing to work with us to keep all of our students and staff safe, this includes keeping students home if they are sick and letting school leaders know if you have concerns or questions. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we continue to do all we can to educate our students while protecting their health and well-being,” the school system said in a statement.

The two cases alone were not considered a “cluster” by the NCDHHS. In a childcare or school setting, a COVID-19 cluster is defined as a minimum of five laboratory-confirmed cases in a 14-day period, according to the state agency.

Five more deaths, 1,119 cases

The Hoke County Health Department noted five more people with permanent Hoke County addresses have died of coronavirus-related causes. So far, 18 people from Hoke have died after testing positive for COVID-19.

Hoke County has seen more than 1,100 known positive cases of coronavirus since identifying the first local case in March. That includes 265 currently active cases under investigation by the Health Department, and 836 people who have since recovered from the virus.

The five most recently reported deaths include an African-American woman who died September 18 at FirstHealth of the Carolinas; a white man who died September 14 at Cape Fear Valley; an African-American man who died September 13 at FirstHealth of the Carolinas; an African-American woman who died September 8 at FirstHealth of the Carolinas; and an African-American man who died September 4 at FirstHealth of the Carolinas.

Hoke County reported its first coronavirus-related death in May. Two more people died of COVID-19 related causes in June, five in July and in August. Due to patient privacy laws, health officials have not released additional details about the deceased individuals.

Some of Hoke County’s neighbors have seen more deaths due to COVID-19, according to NCDHHS. As of September 22, Cumberland County had 75 deaths and more than 5,000 total cases of COVID-19, while Robeson County had 72 deaths and more than 4,200 cases since March. Harnett County had 51 deaths and over 2,000 cases, and Moore County had 27 deaths and more than 1,500 cases.

Scotland County and Richmond County have had fewer cases and deaths than Hoke, with 911 cases and 14 deaths in Richmond County and 962 cases and 12 deaths in Scotland County.

10 cases at Autumn Care

The NCDHHS included Autumn Care of Raeford in its reports of living facilities experiencing an outbreak of coronavirus, after six staff members and a resident tested positive for the illness. Three more residents have since tested positive, according to health officials.

This is the first time since the start of the pandemic that the state has reported an outbreak at Autumn Care. NCDHHS defines a COVID-19 outbreak in a congregate living setting as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases.

Other congregate living facilities in Hoke County, including Open Arms assisted living, the Crossings at Wayside and Canyon Hills youth behavioral treatment center have previously seen outbreaks since the start of the pandemic. Two residents at the Crossings at Wayside, and three staff members at Open Arms tested positive during the summer. At least 17 people, including residents and staff, tested positive at Canyon Hills in the spring. All three of those facilities are no longer in outbreak status.

Long-term care facilities are testing employees and residents every one to two weeks to address outbreaks early and control the spread, Edwards said.

State health officials continue to urge residents to continue to practice good hand washing, wear a face covering in public and wait six feet apart from others in public places.

For more information on COVID-19 and for a list of available testing sites, visit https://covid19.ncdhhs.gov.

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