By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • After months of steady numbers, Hoke County along with much of North Carolina has seen adrastic increase in the number of local cases of COVID-19.
Hoke County has seen 479 new confirmed cases of the virus in the past seven days, bringing the 14-day total to 655, according to numbers from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).
“We are seeing a surge in cases,” Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards said Monday.
Some of that is due to more people getting tested before traveling for the holidays, or getting tested after being exposed to a person with the virus. About 17.8 percent of COVID-19 tests for Hoke residents came back positive the week before Christmas, Edwards said.
The current numbers work out to about 118 cases per 10,000 Hoke residents, according to NCDHHS data. That’s slightly higher than surrounding counties: Cumberland County has about 108 cases per 10,000 residents; Moore County, 106; Robeson County, 106; Richmond County, 112. Scotland County also has seen about 118 cases per 10,000 residents.
Since the start of the pandemic, Hoke has seen 8,414 known positive cases of the coronavirus.
Hospitalizations due to COVID-19 went up sharply over the past week. As of January 2, there were 2,722 people hospitalized with COVID-19 in facilities across North Carolina. A week earlier, that number was 1,837.
The county has not seen any further reported deaths due to COVID-19. In fact, NCDHHS figures reduced the reported death toll from 91 to 90. This is possibly because the cause of death for one person was determined to be from something other than the virus, one official said.
Schools back in this week
Hoke County Schools will return from break as planned this week, public relations director Meredith Bounds said Monday. Staff had a scheduled teacher workday Tuesday, and students were set to go back to class Wednesday.
One school district in the area was considering whether to postpone students’ return to in-person learning due to the surge. Cumberland County education leaders planned to meet Tuesday to discuss delaying the start of in-person learning.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and NCDHHS Strong Schools guidance recently changed the recommended amount of time people who test positive for COVID-19 should isolate themselves from others.
“Given what we currently know about COVID-19 and the Omicron variant, CDC is shortening the recommended time for isolation for the public. People with COVID-19 should isolate for five days and if they are asymptomatic or their symptoms are resolving (without fever for 24 hours), follow that by five days of wearing a mask when around others to minimize the risk of infecting people they encounter,” the agency said in a press release last week. “The change is motivated by science demonstrating that the majority of SARS-CoV-2 transmission occurs early in the course of illness, generally in the one-two days prior to onset of symptoms and the two-three days after.”
Hoke County Schools is working with local health officials to update to the new recommendations.
“We are currently working with Hoke County Schools to change isolation and quarantine protocol to five days from 10-14 days to match the NC DHHS Strong Schools and CDC guidance,” Edwards said in an email Monday.
The Hoke County Health Department continues to provide COVID-19 vaccines 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. Optum Serve provides both PCR and rapid COVID-19 tests at the white tents in the parking lot of the health department. The COVID-19 testing hours are 8 a.m.-3 p.m. Tuesday-Friday, and Saturdays 10 a.m.-2 p.m.
The Health Department will also offer take-home COVID-19 tests while supplies are available, Edwards said Monday at the county commissioners’ meeting. The phone number for the Hoke County Health Department is (910) 875-3717.
FirstHealth is also among the providers offering COVID-19 testing at its Convenient Care center in Raeford. The clinic is located at 4545 Fayetteville Road. The phone number is (910) 878-5100.