By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Hoke’s number of known positive cases of COVID-19 remained low this week, as officials continued efforts to prevent outbreaks at nursing homes and the Hoke County jail.
Hoke had 25 cases of COVID-19 as of Tuesday, according to Hoke County Health Department Director Helene Edwards. Many of the cases involved people who are military-connected, work in healthcare or traveled out of the state in March.
The most recently identified local cases of coronavirus included two children who are siblings, who tested positive at Scotland Memorial Hospital; and a 44-year-old woman who tested positive at FirstHealth of the Carolinas hospital in Raeford.
Many of the people in Hoke County who contracted COVID-19 last month or early this month have already recovered, Edwards said. So far, none of the local patients have needed a hospital stay for treatment. Several people more recently diagnosed remain in isolation this week.
“We’re just taking it day by day,” Edwards said.
As many counties struggle with outbreaks at nursing homes, the Hoke Health Department’s clinical disease specialist continues staying in touch with local nursing homes in Hoke County. The nursing homes in Hoke stopped visitors from coming early on, about the middle of March, weeks before the governor issued an order to halt visitation.
“They were pretty aggressive with that, they were really thinking about the patients,” Edwards said. They’re also checking the temperature of the employees, who are wearing personal protective equipment on the job.
Inmate facilities are also taking action as several jails, including the state prison Neuse Correctional Facility in Goldsboro, struggle with outbreaks.
The Hoke County jail put precautions in place March 16 before doctors discovered the first known positive case of COVID-19 in Hoke. Visitors are not currently allowed at the jail. Family members can schedule video visits instead.
The county jail is also screening inmates at the time of intake with questions and a temperature check in the booking room with an infrared thermometer. Inmates who have a fever cannot enter the facility, the sheriff’s office said. The facility also stepped up sanitation measures and equipped staff members with personal protective equipment (PPE), among other actions that so far appear to have worked so far.
“So far so good,” Hoke Sheriff Hubert Peterkin confirmed in a message Monday.
Hoke County and city of Raeford offices continue providing services, though most department offices are closed to the public or by appointment only. For updates and contact information, visit readyhoke.org or raefordcity.org.
Leading cause of death
Over the last month, COVID-19 has become the number one cause of death in the United States, according to North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS) Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen. More Americans have died in recent weeks of coronavirus than have died of any other single cause such as heart disease or cancer in the same time period, according to numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). So far more than 41,000 people in the U.S. have died of causes related to COVID-19.
Additionally, more people in North Carolina have died of the coronavirus since March 24 than have died in all of the 2019-2020 flu season that started last fall, Cohen said. By Tuesday, at least 213 people in North Carolina had died of COVID-19 related causes. None of the deaths occurred in Hoke County.
More than 420 people in North Carolina remained hospitalized this week due to COVID-19, according to NCDHHS. The statewide total of known cases rose to nearly 7,000.
People in 93 out of North Carolina’s 100 counties have tested positive for the coronavirus. The largest numbers of cases are centered in Mecklenburg, Wake and Wayne counties.
Reopening talks underway
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper began last week discussing plans for how to reopen the state and ease restrictions. The plan focuses on the need for testing, tracing and trends to move in the right direction, his office said in a press statement Friday. For now, the governor’s stay-at-home order remains in effect until the end of April, with public schools closed until May 15.
State officials want to ramp up testing capacity and efforts as part of the plan to reopen, Cohen said. Testing strategies involve two puzzle pieces: how health workers safely collect samples, and coordination with laboratories that process the samples.
Cohen continued to urge people to stay at home, wash hands and call the doctor if they experience symptoms of COVID-19. Officials know people are eager to get back to normal, but even after restrictions ease, COVID-19 will still be here, she said.
“This virus is here with us until we have a vaccine,” Cohen said. It will be anywhere from a year to 18 months or longer before an effective vaccine, currently in the development phase, is approved for use in humans.
To help give officials more information, NCDHHS is working with researchers across North Carolina to provide more details on exactly how the virus spreads in communities.
“North Carolina’s actions to flatten the curve and fight COVID-19 are working. We know we need more testing of all types, and this research partnership will help us better understand the virus so we can keep our communities safe as we seek to ease restrictions,” Cooper said in a statement.
NCDHHS is collaborating with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, Duke University and East Carolina University to assess changes in COVID-19 prevalence in Chatham, Pitt and Cabarrus counties. Participants will be recruited across different populations and monitored over several months to understand the spread of the virus.
“We have to focus our collective resources – across government, private and public sectors – to defeat this virus. Our research partners are integral to winning the fight,” Cohen said in a statement.
The studies will seek to address important knowledge gaps while building on existing partnerships, including the N.C. Partnership fro Excellence in Applied Epidemiology, which is a collaboration between UNC-Chapel Hill and the DHHS. The research is part of a coordinated statewide effort to learn more about what percentage of people have no symptoms and better understand the true number of COVID-19 infection in the state.